Best Practices in Oral Health

What is Oral Health promotion?

Good health is a major resource for social, economic and personal development. Political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, behavioural and biological factors can enhance or impair health. Health promotion action aims at making these conditions conducive to health. Health promotion therefore goes beyond health care. It puts health on the agenda of policy makers in all sectors and at all levels, directing them to be aware of the health consequences of their decisions and to accept their responsibilities for health. Health promotion policy combines diverse but complementary approaches including legislation, fiscal measures, taxation and organizational change. It is a coordinated effort towards creating supportive environments and strengthening community action. Health promotion works through concrete and effective community actions in setting priorities, making decisions, planning strategies and implementing them to achieve better health. Community development and empowerment draws on existing human and material resources in the community to facilitate self-help, social support, participation and ownership.

Health promotion deals with the broader determinants of health and aims at reducing risks through sensitive policies and actions. Promotion of health in the settings where people live, work, learn and play is clearly the most creative and cost-effective way of improving oral health and, in turn, the quality of life.

Water is essential to life, health and food production. Approximately 20% of the world population do not have access to safe drinking water and nearly 40% lack adequate sanitation. Around the world, both biological contaminants and chemical pollutants are compromising water quality, leading to a range of diseases that are often life threatening. Poor sanitation, a common condition in most developing countries, affects both general and oral hygiene. It therefore remains a challenge to many communities in developing countries to promote hygiene education and behavioural changes among parents, child caregivers and children. Communities should also strive to develop effective programmes on school sanitation and proper water handling in relation to oral hygiene.

Increasing urbanization, demographic and socio-environmental changes require different approaches to oral health actions. It is unlikely that improvements in oral health can be achieved by isolated interventions that target specific behaviours. The most effective, sustainable interventions combine social policy and individual action through which healthy living conditions and lifestyles are promoted.

At the global level, WHO technical and policy support is needed to enable countries to integrate oral health promotion with general health promotion. Expertise of WHO Collaborating Centres on Oral Health is valuable in this process. Countries can also draw upon local experiences and strengths, encouraging communities to contribute actively to their own health future, and to facilitate community empowerment and action for health promotion. The WHO Oral Health Programme applies the philosophy "think globally - act locally" The development of programmes for oral health promotion in targeted countries focus on:

  • Identification of health determinants; mechanisms in place to improve capacity to design and implement interventions that promote oral health.
  • Implementation of community-based demonstration projects for oral health promotion, with special reference to poor and disadvantaged population groups.
  • Building capacity in planning and evaluation of national programmes for oral health promotion and evaluation of oral health promotion interventions in operation.
  • Development of methods and tools to analyse the processes and outcomes of oral health promotion interventions as part of national health programmes.
  • Establishment of networks and alliances to strengthen national and international actions for oral health promotion. Emphasis is also given to the development of networks for exchange of experiences within the context of the WHO Mega Country Programme.

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