Healthy People 2020
Submitted by: Judy Gelinas

One of three nationwide public hearings for Healthy People 2020 was held in Philadelphia on November 7th. The over 100 draft objectives for this 10 year health promotion and disease prevention plan include 17 objectives for oral health. These include goals that range from increasing early detection of oral cancer to reducing the proportion of children and adolescents who have dental caries experience. The subjects sparked my enthusiasm for the role a dental hygienist can have in reaching these benchmarks.

Indexed by topics, I was impressed that objectives overlap. It is impossible to meet the objective under the topic of “Older Adults” that calls for “reducing the proportion of older adults with disabilities who have an unmet need for long-term services and supports” without increasing access to oral health services. In order to “increase the proportion of pregnant women who receive early and adequate prenatal care,” these women need to have access to preventive and restorative oral health services. All HP 2020 objectives include the absolute connection of health services and total wellness.

Another topic, new to Healthy People since 2010, is “Social Determinants of Health.”
No specific objectives have been selected yet since Health and Human Services is open for your suggestions on this topic. As a hygienist working in the public health field, I think about the social determinants of oral health whenever I plan programs. But society determines oral health priorities regardless of economics in private practice or community clinics. See if you agree with my list of what influences the consumer on their “wants and needs.”

  1. Health literacy – if someone understands the risks and benefits of dietary choices and preventive and treatment choices, the person can make wise decisions.
  2. Media influence – the media tells us that we need white and perfectly straight teeth in order to succeed at life and love. How many times have you been asked about whitening or Invisalign by someone with periodontal disease or multiple cavities?
  3. Peer and family expectations – if your friends tease you about bad breath or your family doesn’t brush at bedtime, priorities are set.
  4. Self esteem – a person needs to believe they are worth the effort and resources needed to have a healthy smile.

I would love to hear your thoughts on “Social Determinants of Health” and hope you will take the time to email me at

HHS would like to hear your thoughts too. Please take a few moments to review Healthy People 2020 at Public comment is accepted online through December 31st.