Research finds new approaches to improving America's oral health literacy

Washington, DC — February 13, 2020 — Today, the Delta Dental Institute published a white paper examining the state of health literacy in America and its impact on oral and overall health outcomes. "Improving America's Oral Health Literacy" draws on an existing body of literature to assess health literacy gaps and evaluate how improvements can enable Americans to make more informed decisions about their oral health.

"Knowledge is power when it comes to good oral health," said Vivian Vasallo, Executive Director of the Delta Dental Institute. "This paper affirms the link between high health literacy and good health outcomes and provides an important roadmap for how dental health professionals, insurers, employers, and brokers can better empower Americans with the information they need to make more informed oral health decisions."

The white paper documents that while most Americans recognize the connection between oral health and overall health, a discrepancy in outcomes remains, due in part to low levels of health literacy and inadequate consideration of social determinants of health. The paper details how low health literacy is associated with poorer health outcomes and lower-than-average use of health care services. Conversely, high levels of oral health literacy facilitate effective dentist-patient communication, which has a direct positive impact on preventive, diagnostic, and restorative oral health services.

The paper identifies three actionable recommendations for improving America's oral health literacy, including: developing dental health literacy training modules; adapting the after-visit summary for use in dentistry; and providing plain-language clinical and dental insurance educational information to all patients. It also explores the current state of medical-dental integration and emerging solutions that would benefit patients, especially those with chronic diseases.

The white paper was commissioned by the Delta Dental Institute and is co-authored by Kathryn A. Atchison, DDS, MPH (UCLA School of Dentistry), Alice M. Horowitz, PhD (University of Maryland School of Public Health), and Nicole D. Holland, DDS, MS (Tufts School of Dental Medicine).

The full white paper is available on the Delta Dental Institute's website and can be downloaded directly here.

About the Delta Dental Institute

The Delta Dental Institute is putting a new spotlight on oral health. We are dedicated to advancing America's oral health in partnership with Delta Dental member companies and other leading partners across the country. With expertise rooted in Delta Dental's rich history of oral health leadership, the Delta Dental Institute engages in and supports oral health research, community outreach, and advocacy, striving to ensure all Americans can have the healthy smile they deserve and live their healthiest lives.