Surgeon General Visits, Touts Oral Health
By Carla Garnett
On the Front Page...
Back in 1964, Dr. Luther Terry, then U.S. surgeon general, was
understandably a bit nervous. He was about to release the first-ever
Surgeon General's Report, which confirmed several long-suspected
theories regarding the detrimental effect of smoking on health. As he
was riding to the news conference, thinking about what he would
say, he lit up a cigarette. Noting the cigarette, an adviser, who knew
Terry was a chronic smoker, suggested that the surgeon general be
prepared for the first question reporters were certain to ask: Do you
smoke, Dr. Terry? Terry could not believe reporters would be
interested in his personal habits. Sure enough, though, following
Terry's announcement of the landmark SG report and his comments
about the health dangers of smoking, a savvy reporter asked Terry if
he smoked. "No," Terry replied. The reporter convinced
he had done his homework double-checked his notes.
Knowing Terry's history, the writer pressed further, "Dr. Terry,
when did you quit?" A smiling Terry responded, "About 30 minutes
ago." He never smoked again.
Seven surgeons general and more than 50 SG reports later, the man
who currently holds the job, Dr. David Satcher, said he tells the
Terry story to make a point.
"There is something special about a surgeon general's report," he
remarked genially, during a recent visit to NIH. "Not only do the
reports aim to change the behavior of the American people, but
surgeon general reports also sometimes change the behavior of the
Satcher's Mar. 19 visit capped a day filled with panel discussions,
briefings and tours of NIH facilities for more than 100 medical
officers from CIGNA health organizations nationwide. Satcher said
his visit to address the group was two-fold. He wanted to talk about
how federal health agencies could team up with health maintenance
organizations like CIGNA to improve the nation's overall health, and
he wanted to pitch one of his latest releases the Surgeon
General's Report on Oral Health, which came out last May.
Several major points were outlined in the report, which was
prepared in large part by researchers and other experts at the
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Satcher
emphasized a few key findings: oral health involves much more than
healthy teeth and is, in fact, integral to general health; safe and
effective disease prevention measures fluoridated drinking
water, for example exist that everyone can adopt to
improve oral health and prevent disease; profound disparities exist in
the oral health of Americans, especially among children and the
elderly; and general health risk factors, such as tobacco use and
poor dietary practices, also affect oral and craniofacial health.
"Poor oral health interferes with quality of life," Satcher stressed.
The surgeon general also talked briefly about Healthy People
2010 the health promotion and disease prevention agenda
for the nation and how difficult it has been to get such an
all-encompassing, wide-ranging message effectively distributed to a
large and diverse population.
"Healthy People 2010 is supposed to be a 'people document,' but no
matter how good you are at communicating, you can't engage
people to receive 467 objectives," he said, recommending that
instead of trying to bombard the public with too many messages,
health providers should promote the shorter list of 10 leading health
indicators summarized from HP2010.
During a question-and-answer period, Satcher fielded comments and
queries about everything from the high cost of providing health
insurance to all Americans, to the oft-times less-than-nutritious
foods provided to children through schools, to the difficulties in
translating clinical study data to medical practice.
"Getting research results to the people is a real struggle," he
admitted, "but it's a struggle that we must continue, and one we
must continue together."
According to Satcher, the major problem with healthcare in the
United States is lack of balance. He believes the nation needs a
community health system that balances health promotion, disease
prevention, early detection and universal access to care. "It's in
America's best interest to work towards universal healthcare," he
There are no easy solutions to balancing costs and access to medical
care, he said, but discussions like these among health
providers, advocates and researchers, in both private and public
sectors are crucial; the bottom line is that "we need a
health system that provides for the needs of the American people."
Acknowledging the daunting challenge of achieving optimum
healthcare that is affordable for an entire nation, Satcher concluded
by quoting former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary John
Gardner: "Life is full of golden opportunities carefully disguised as
Surgeon General David Satcher
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