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Oral Health Services Research and Oral Health Policy

Oral Health Services Research refers to a discipline of study, which examines societal issues that are considered or implemented in an attempt to better understand oral health related problems. Because these issues and problems are typically complex and multi-faceted, Oral Health Services Research is multidisciplinary and often includes among other fields of study economics, sociology and political science. Oral Health Services Research provides the scientific evidence and foundation for the development of Oral Health Policy and public decision making.

Traditionally, factors associated with oral health are studied in a biological, behavioral, psychological, anthropological, sociological and economic context. These factors provide a conventional understanding of disease, need, demand and utilization and provide important insight into some of the causes of oral health disparities in the United States.

While important and necessary, even a complete and thorough understanding of each of these factors will not always result in an obvious construct that might result in improved oral health outcomes. This is because other factors are often also involved. Understanding oral health and the formulation of programs to help alleviate possible disparities is not only a function of science but is also a matter of policy, politics and public will. As such, a satisfactory outcome necessitates a prior understanding of the institutions and environment in which public decision making occurs. To make the successful promotion of these ideas and solutions even more difficult, these ideas must compete in a competitive public sector market place. Unfortunately, the public sector market place exists as an environment where resources are limited and scarce. Therefore, proposed programs to alleviate oral health disparities must compete with other like programs. Competing programs often have associated with them active and passionate constituencies advocating for the same limited funds. Therefore, it is not enough to understand the issues and it is not enough to postulate a reasonable and obviously appropriate model for relief. Instead, it is also imperative that an implementation plan be developed and included in a context consistent with the prevailing public and private institutions.

A major hallmark of Oral Health Policy includes an anticipation that collaborations across the health professions, both within and between institutions as well as between the health professions and state and local agencies directed at oral health promotion will be formulated. As such an understanding and an ability to work with professional organizations, state and local agencies is a must for success.

Specifically, Maryland's governmental institutions and political processes will have a direct effect on the state's ability to alleviate health disparities among Maryland's citizens. Additionally, private professional organizations as well as various advocacy groups will both directly and indirectly impact any considered changes in policy. The function of oral health policy is to examine each of these institutions, analyze the relationships that exist among these players and help to develop strategies to improve their prospects for success.

Several faculty at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry are currently engaged in Oral Health Services and Oral Health Policy related research projects and have published related manuscripts. In addition, school of dentistry faculty have developed and nurtured valuable and durable relationships with several state and federal agencies as well as with various private professional organizations and advocacy groups.

Richard J. Manski D.D.S., M.B.A., Ph.D.
Professor and Director
Health Services Research Program
Phone: 410.706.7245
FAX: 410.706.3028
EMAIL: manski@dental.umaryland.edu