Oral Health

Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Lesley Waters

Why It Matters What We Are Doing  |  Who Is Involved



Why It Matters

Worldwide, 60-90% of school children and nearly 100% of adults have dental cavities, and about 30% of people over 65 have no natural teeth left, according to the World Health Organization. A recent analysis of 291 diseases worldwide found that untreated caries in permanent teeth was the most prevalent of all conditions. Rates are increasing with population growth and aging, particularly in Asia. In the U.S., millions of Americans suffer from the pain of dental disease and live shorter lives because of chronic oral health problems. In North Carolina, more than 35,000 children enter kindergarten each year with tooth decay. Dental disease is most prevalent in groups that lack access to preventive oral health care, particularly fluoride, as well as to skilled dental treatment.  Dental decay is also related to an unhealthy diet, tobacco use, harmful alcohol use and poor oral hygiene.


What We Are Doing

Strategic leadership coupled with pragmatic solutions are the hallmarks of the Gillings School and its partner, the UNC School of Dentistry. Read More

Our emphasis is on practical, effective interventions that promote oral health literacy, enhance access to care, and prevent the chronic illnesses that result from untreated dental diseases.

We are leaders in training the dental public health workforce of the future. The Gillings School and the Dental School offer a joint degree in oral epidemiology and a joint program in dental public health, a unique approach that maximizes the wealth of resources in both schools.

We also work together on a number of important community programs.  For example, we are partnering with a number of North Carolina communities to investigate the impact of oral health literacy of parents and caregivers on the oral health of their preschool-aged children. This project aims to improve both oral health literacy and health care access.

Our strong focus is reducing dental health disparities. For the past 30 years, our faculty has studied the effectiveness of community- and practice-based oral health interventions such as fluoride, various dental treatments, and physician-delivered preventive services.  We have been building and testing a health care system that pools the resources of physicians, dentists and community organizations like Early Head Start in oral health prevention and care for preschool children.  This unique collaboration show enormous promise in reducing barriers to prevention and access. We also are testing the use of practice facilitators to improve primary care physicians’ rates of oral health screening, risk assessment and referrals of young children.

We host students and fellows from around the world.  Our alumni are active across the state, nation and globe in delivering science-based oral health programs and shaping regional and national health policies. With our enormous capacity for data management, evaluation, training, research and leadership development, the Gillings School and the UNC Dental School are uniquely positioned to develop and disseminate evidence-based strategies, build capacity and respond to a wide range of policy and practice challenges.

Who Is Involved

Our leaders in oral health come from across the Gilling School, and include our world-class faculty, staff, post-docs and students. This overview only captures a fraction of the important research, teaching, and public service efforts in oral health at the Gillings School. Please explore the individual leader descriptions to learn more about their work.