Oral health: introduction

Oral health means more than 'good teeth' - it is integral to general health, is essential for wellbeing, and is a determinant of quality of life (Peterson, 2003). It allows us to speak, smile, kiss, touch, taste, chew, swallow and cry. Conversely, oral disease can lead to significant time lost from school, work and other activities.

This wider definition of oral health should not detract from the importance of the two most important oral diseases - dental caries and periodontal (gum) disease. Both can be effectively prevented and treated, but have to be considered in the context of their strong relationship with socio-economic factors. The incidence of oral disease is higher in people from deprived areas (Sweeney et al, 1999).

The relationship between oral health and general health is well documented, with oral disease and non-communicable chronic disease having many common risk factors. Moreover, many general conditions have oral manifestations or can affect dental treatment.