AcademyHealth has long been a nexus for collaborators in health policy and practice, linking field data to drive awareness and partnerships among researchers, healthcare providers, and policymakers. Despite this collaborative spirit, oral health has remained in a concerning silo from its historical separation from medicine in education, training as well as insurance and reimbursement with implications to health services research. The Oral Health Interest Group, stagnant since 2020, must be revitalized to better integrate dental care into broader health concerns and policy-making efforts. The profound impacts of the last four years’ underpin this call to action—from the global shutdown of dental services during the pandemic to national dialogues on social justice—on oral health discourse and practice.

Impact of the Pandemic on Oral Health. The pandemic has served as a stark reminder of the importance of infection control, particularly in dentistry, where aerosol generation is of significant concern. The cessation of dental services disrupted training and care. Moreover, it continues to affect people's decisions about seeking oral healthcare, with some still delaying or foregoing necessary treatments due to fear of infection. This highlighted the pressing need for better emergency preparedness, alongside including the involvement of oral health professionals in broader public health responses, such as mass vaccination efforts. The global shutdown of dentistry significantly impacted the stagnation of the oral health interest group at AcademyHealth.

Oral health has struggled to encourage diverse opinions and voices as clinicians and faculty educators. There have been several flashpoints of discussion and debate in social justice and health equity over the last four years during the time the oral health interest group has been inactive. Collaboration with diverse disciplines will be crucial to advance oral health related advocacy, policy and research. 

Oral Health in Reports and Policy. Key publications, such as the 2020 US Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health and the 2022 World Health Organization Global Oral Health Status Report, have been pivotal in broadening the understanding of oral health. They stress the intricate connections between oral health and overall health, the impact of social and economic factors, and the need for collaborative research and public health approaches that transcend traditional dental care, considering factors such as socioeconomic disparities and the availability of healthcare resources. Oral health initiatives are transformative and can serve as catalysts for advancing a progressive global oral health agenda.

Collaboration and Future Vision. Global strategies to address the full scope of oral diseases requires collaboration with multiple public and private collaborators. Integrating oral health into universal health care aligns with the Vision 2030 goals, an ambition reinforced by increasing recognition of the mouth-body connection. It is a clarion call for the oral health community to engage with diverse disciplines and foster a culture of inclusivity and collaboration.

Join the Oral Health Section Revival at the 2024 AcademyHealth Annual Meeting 

AcademyHealth’s Oral Health Interest Group is set to revive at the Baltimore Annual Research Meeting. A dedicated session on June 29th, 2024, from 2:15 pm to 3:30 pm titled Setting the Global Oral Health Agenda: Research, Policy & Beyond will provide a platform for discussing how to rejuvenate the interest group and develop strategies for advancing oral health policy and integration with medicine.

Learning from Success: Emulating the Johns Hopkins Global Oral Health Model 

The forthcoming AcademyHealth Annual Meeting’s Oral Health Interest Group session aims to replicate the resounding success of the Global Oral Health event hosted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in April 2023, titled “Advancing the Global Oral Health Agenda,” set a benchmark for interdisciplinary discussions and engagement in oral health policy and public education.

Our session in Baltimore will foster a vibrant discourse among experts from various fields, focusing on the crucial nexus between oral and public health. This meeting is particularly timely, following the impressive response from participants at the Johns Hopkins event, who expressed a strong desire for more such forums. These gatherings are crucial in our mission to amplify the voice of the oral health community, advocate for necessary policy changes, and promote the inclusion of oral health within the totality of bodily health.

As we mobilize for AcademyHealth’s 2024 Annual Meeting this June 29-July 2 in Baltimore, let’s adopt and embody our belief that oral health is not an isolated practice but an integral part of holistic health care. Please see the agenda at a glance here. Register to join us in Baltimore this June here.

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