Health care is one of the most important pillars of any society as it aims to improve the quality of human life and well-being. The institutions of public health and clinical health care, including those in the field of dentistry, are both designed to achieve this goal. However, their approaches to people’s health needs are quite divergent, as they have different targets, focuses, and intervention mechanisms.
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The main difference between dental public health system and clinical oral health care system is their target audience. The services provided by the public health system aim to address the health needs at the community level (Burt & Eklund, 2005). Consequently, their actions are more comprehensive and systematic and include not only developing health programs but also creating health legislation and regulations and educating the public (American Association of Public Health Dentistry, 2006). Such an approach allows public health professionals to identify larger patterns and trends in the community that, in turn, affect particular individuals. For instance, low quality of water in a given area may affect dental health of this area’s population, and public health specialists work to address the problem of water quality. Clinical oral health care workers, on the other hand, work with individual patients to provide the necessary treatment to them. In the same example, they would address the health needs of the community members that occurred as a result of a public health issue.
Another difference between the two systems is their main focus. The public health system is primarily concerned with prevention rather than treatment. Preventive measures at the community level diminish the overall costs and protect vulnerable members of the society who may not otherwise have access to health care. They include the elimination of external risk factors (improving air and water quality), health promotion, and education of the public on health issues (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). For instance, the American Dental Association uses current research to develop patient education brochures on topics ranging from oral hygiene to specific diseases and their causes and treatment (American Dental Association, n.d.). That is not to say that clinical oral health care providers do not value prevention measures. On the contrary, they often become the agents of health-related knowledge dissemination. This is why every visit to a dentist is accompanied with a reminder about the importance of flossing. However, most of the time clinical health care providers are there to treat the already existing health problems, especially since many patients ignore making regular visits to dentists and only turn to health care specialists when their health problems have already worsened.
Finally, public health system and clinical health care system employ different methods and techniques to achieve their goals. Public health specialists use a variety of tools in different areas: lobbying to shape health and environment legislation, raising awareness to influence individual lifestyles and behaviors, and laboratory research to advance the medical knowledge (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, n.d.). The clinical oral health care system, with its emphasis on medical care, primarily uses the medical tools available to the specialists, such as medical equipment and medicine. At the same time, the two are closely linked: the evidence generated from the work of oral health care providers is used to assess the overall community needs and may even indicate a particular external problem. For instance, a growing number of caries cases may signal worsening environmental conditions in the community.
Thus, the dental public health system and the clinical oral health care system use different tools to address the health needs of a community and its members at different stages. Nevertheless, the two systems are not contradictory – rather, they complement each other to improve human welfare by addressing different causes of the same problem.
American Association of Public Health Dentistry. (2006). Why choose a career in public health dentistry? Web.
American Dental Association. (n.d.). Patient education brochures. Web.
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Burt, B.A., & Eklund, S.A. (2005). Dentistry, dental practice, and the community (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). The public health system and the ten essential public health services. Web.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Public health and medicine. Web.