Dental public health is an area of dentistry concerned with the evaluation of dental health needs and how the practice of dental healthcare meets those needs.
Dental public health has been recognized as a speciality by the American Dental Association since 1950 and is considered a unique, non-clinical discipline focused on improving dental and oral health across populations rather than among individuals. Specialists in this area mainly work for primary care trusts and health authorities, although some take up academic posts in the Department of Health or universities, for example.
Dental public health experts provide leadership and guidance in areas such as population-based dentistry, disease prevention, the promotion of dental health, and the surveillance of oral health.
Further details of the areas that fall within the remit of dental public health specialists are given below:
- Assessment of population-based dentistry and how dental health practice meets the needs of communities.
- Widespread surveillance of oral health including the monitoring of problems such as oral cancer and tobacco use.
- Accumulation of data on the incidence of dental and oral disease across populations, to help policy makers raise awareness of these problems and devise appropriate strategies.
- Community-based care for the prevention of dental disease and the promotion of dental health.
- Maintenance of the dental health safety net system.
- Development of a beneficial relationship between the public and private practice models of care.
In 2011, the British Dental Association (BDA) launched a document in support of the Department of Health’s White Paper Healthy Lives, Healthy People. The BDA Dental Public Health Futures document supports the strengthening of public health by providing guidance and advice on how dental health practice can be effective at both improving and protecting health.
The government’s Healthy Lives, Healthy People strategy claims to mark “a new era for public health, with a higher priority and dedicated resources… helping people to live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives and improving the health of the poorest, fastest.” To meet these challenges, dental public health members of the BDA have identified several areas of the public health workforce that require development as part of their commitment to improving oral health across the nation.
These twelve areas are summarized below:
- Supporting the strategy for dental public health that is already in place and ensuring it is line with the Government’s public health strategy.
- Ensuring any new structures or boards created are adequately supported by consultants.
- Ensuring any allocated budgets match the various requirement of the dental public health strategy. Defined public health budgets and staff numbers are needed to ensure healthcare professions can deliver their services effectively and that dental public health aims are met.
- Supporting the protection of any existing dental public health posts and recruitment for any vacant posts, to ensure that expertise are preserved. As Dental Public Health is already under-resourced, the loss of any future roles could negatively impact on dental health services across local communities.
- Ensuring that consultants in dental public health remain employers of the NHS.
- Ensuring that the NHS commissioning of dental health services is supported by qualified dentistry teams led by dental public health consultants and not individuals from other healthcare disciplines.
- Promoting the maintenance of standards in terms of the consultants’ performance, quality, and accessibility in the new NHS structures.
- Encouraging recognition of the ongoing challenges in addressing public health issues across entire populations.
- Continuing the provision of dental public health services within the NHS to ensure the transition process is supported by clinical experts.
- Encouraging the safeguarding of the dental public health speciality by protecting academic careers, education, and the availability of training and consultant posts so that opportunities for career progression are maintained.
- Supporting carefully monitored and safeguarded education, with trainees required to have experience of both the NHS and local authorities before becoming a dental public health consultant.