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Oral health literacy continues to be HOD priority

San Antonio—The ADA House of Delegates continued to make oral health literacy a priority, passing three resolutions that build on its work to promote "clear, accurate and effective communication" in the profession.

"The ADA defines oral health literacy as 'the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate oral health decisions,' " said Dr. Lindsey Robinson, immediate past chair, ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations.

"The Association has affirmed that limited oral health literacy is a potential barrier to the effective prevention, diagnosis and treatment of oral disease," said Dr. Robinson. "The ability for oral health professionals to clearly communicate health information is an essential element to effective dental practice.

"People with limited health literacy are less knowledgeable of disease signs, symptoms and management; describe worse health; and are less likely to seek preventative services," added Dr. Robinson. "In 2001, the U.S. Center for Health Care Strategies estimated that low functional literacy resulted in an estimated $32 to $58 billion in additional annual health care costs. And, a large-scale national and representative study found that only 12 percent of U.S. adults have proficient health literacy, meaning the majority of adults may not have adequate information to make appropriate health decisions."

Resolutions 24H-2008, 25H-2008 and 26H-2008, submitted by CAPIR, were adopted by the House during annual session last month.

Res. 24H says that "the ADA affirms that clear, accurate and effective communication is an essential skill for effective dental practice."

Res. 25H directs the ADA, through CAPIR and other appropriate agencies, to "urge the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to continue or expand its funding of health literacy research" through the NIH's multi-institute health literacy program announcement.

Res. 26H directs CAPIR, in cooperation with other agencies, to "prepare a five-year strategic action plan to improve the oral health literacy of the public and report to the 2009 House of Delegates."

ADA and CAPIR activities addressing oral health literacy have included:

  • convening its first-ever oral health literacy symposium Oct. 15 and 16 at annual session in San Antonio. The symposium featured keynote speaker Richard Carmona, M.D., the 17th U.S. Surgeon General (from 2002-2006), and a champion for health literacy;
  • forming the ADA National Oral Health Literacy Advisory Committee, a 12-member panel that met in April and October;
  • conducting oral health literacy surveys of dental team members and dental schools;
  • participating in events held by other organizations, including the American Public Health Association annual meeting and the National Oral Health Conference;
  • conducting an assessment of ADA educational materials.

For more information on ongoing oral health literacy projects, contact Gary Podschun, manager, Community Outreach and Cultural Competence for the Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations, by calling toll-free, Ext. 7487.