In December, the Journal of the American Dental Association published an editorial adopting a new, comprehensive definition of oral health. This definition of oral health had previously been written and accepted by an international coalition of dental boards, including the ADA.

By making a more comprehensive definition, the ADA has taken types of dentistry that were sometimes seen as marginal and made them central to the goals of the dental profession, including cosmetic dentistry and neuromuscular dentistry.

Health Is Not Merely the Absence of Disease

Health is not the absence of disease.The new definition attempts to represent the numerous, complex attributes of oral health. It states:

Oral health is multifaceted and includes the ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions with confidence and without pain, discomfort, and disease of the craniofacial complex.

One of the key features of the new definition is that it focuses first on the positive manifestations of oral health, only later talking about the absence of pain and disease. In the past, it was assumed that if you weren’t diseased, you were, by definition, healthy. However, this is far from the truth. Just because you’re not sick, doesn’t mean you’re not healthy.

Positive manifestations of health include functional and psychological dimensions. Being healthy means that you can do all the tasks that your mouth is supposed to perform, and that you don’t feel anxiety about the health and function of your craniofacial complex.

The definition expands beyond the mere absence of disease, adding physical function and psycho-social function. Psycho-social is the term the ADA uses to describe the psychological and social manifestations of your oral health. Your oral health has psychological dimensions: you have to feel good about your teeth, confident that you can smile and not fearful about a marginal health status. But your oral health has social dimensions, too. Our smile is one of our most crucial tools for social interaction in both personal and professional relationships. If we can’t show it, we don’t have a healthy mouth.

Making Cosmetic Dentistry Mainstream

By incorporating the importance of an attractive smile and making reference to the health of the craniofacial complex, the new definition of oral health gives central importance to two sometimes overlooked aspects of dentistry.

First, it acknowledges that looking good is one of the key functions of our teeth. Cosmetic dentistry isn’t an optional afterthought. It’s a crucial aspect that all dentistry should achieve.

It also acknowledges that oral health isn’t just about the teeth or even the mouth. Instead, oral health depends on the health of the entire craniofacial complex, the focus of neuromuscular dentistry. The extended definition even goes beyond this to emphasize a holistic approach to oral health as “a fundamental component of health and physical and mental well-being.”

Oral Health Is Relative

Importantly, the new definition also acknowledges that oral health is relative to our social situation. What constitutes oral health in some communities will not be considered oral health in other communities.

This is an an empowering concept, because it means that each of us has the power to define our own oral health. And this definition can change as our lives change and our situation and priorities may change.

Dentists, the ADA says, should prioritize and respond to patients’ own perception of their oral health.

How Is Your Oral Health Today?

At Top Down Dental, we have long practiced dentistry according to these principles. We accept that oral health goes beyond just the absence of disease, and we strive to ensure the beauty and function of your smile. We know that oral health is a keystone of your overall health and if we don’t maintain it, you may suffer serious health consequences. We also understand that your definition of oral health is your own, and we will strive to honor and achieve your oral health goals to the extent that we can.

If you are looking for a San Jose area dentist who is dedicated to maintaining your oral health, please call  today for an appointment with Dr. Nancy Nehawandian at Top Down Dental in Los Gatos.