Margherita Fontana and Julian Fisher

The United Nations Declaration on Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) recognizes that oral diseases, which includes dental caries, pose a major health burden for many countries, and that NCD diseases (e.g., dental caries, diabetes, etc.) share common risk factors and can benefit from common responses.

Furthermore, the WHO Global Action Plan has stressed that the unequal distribution of NCD is ultimately due to the inequitable distribution of social determinants of health (SDH), and that action on these determinants, both for vulnerable groups and the entire population, is essential to create inclusive, equitable, economically productive and healthy societies. The SDH “are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies and political systems.”

Action on SDH is embedded in efforts to reorient health services, the health workforce, and health workforce education. Big data, technology and social media are helping to drive innovation in addressing the challenges of NCDs, including for example dental caries, in an integrated and comprehensive manner.

Dental record systems can play an increasingly important role in extending and expanding approaches to managing dental caries at individual, community and population levels, across the life-course, as well as helping to strengthen health and education systems. By using validated tools within dental records to collect information on SDH and on common risk factors associated with NCD, and by linking that information to oral and general health conditions, dental records can help the health workforce to be geared towards the social determinants of health, health promotion, disease prevention, and people-centred, individual and community-based services.

Furthermore, use of validated tools to measure SDH and common risk factors supported and promoted by international groups (e.g., WHO, FDI, etc.), embedded in a dental record system that can connect dental and general health information, could help lead the way to a global movement towards gaining a global perspective on how to best to manage NCD. The innovation and impact on education, research and healthcare is very significant.