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Keywords:

  • dental care;
  • health care reform;
  • delivery of health care;
  • public health dentistry

Abstract

Objectives: The sense of urgency concerning the inadequacies of the current U.S. oral health care system in better preventing oral diseases, eliminating oral health disparities, and ensuring access to basic oral health services has increased in recent years. This paper sought to articulate the attributes that an ideal oral health care system would possess, which would be consistent with the principles of the leading authorities on the public's health.

Methods: The authors reviewed policy statements and position papers of the World Health Organization, The Institute of Medicine, The American Public Health Association, Healthy People 2010 Objectives for the Nation, and the American Association of Public Health Dentistry.

Results: Consistent with leading public health authorities, an ideal oral health care system would be have the following attributes: integration with the rest of the health care system; emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention; monitoring of population oral health status and needs; evidence-based; effective; cost-effective; sustainable; equitable; universal; comprehensive; ethical; includes continuous quality assessment and assurance; culturally competent; and empowers communities and individuals to create conditions conducive to health.

Conclusions: Although there are some attributes of an ideal oral health care system on which the United States has made initial strides, it falls far short in many areas. The development of an oral health care delivery system that meets the characteristics described above is possible but would require tremendous commitment and political will on the part of the American public and its elected officials to bring it to fruition.