Epidemiology can be defined as a scientific field studying the causes and origins of diseases, as well as the patterns of their dissemination. Epidemiology practitioners are also responsible for the development of methods aimed to prevent and treat various epidemic diseases.
Nowadays, multiple perspectives on the definition of epidemiology exist. For example, Aschengrau and Seage (2014) regard this scientific branch as “the study of the distribution and determinants of disease frequency in human populations and the application of this study to control health problems” (p. 6). It is possible to say that today the term epidemiology has a broad meaning and is implemented outside the frames of infection studies because mass dissemination of oncologic, vascular, neurologic, and other types of illnesses requires the application of the epidemiologic methodology to investigate the mechanisms of their effects on the population. Therefore, the term “epidemiology” can be used to denote the relevant sections in the studies of various medical realms, including dentistry.
Dental epidemiology studies oral health issues such as chronic pains, oral cancers, congenital defects and diseases, tooth loss and decay, and other disorders affecting the oral cavity. Both general and dental epidemiology is essential to the improvement of public health practice as they help to control oral health issues and provide the solutions for the elaboration of effective patient education and intervention programs.
Screening and population-based surveillance techniques may be regarded as major epidemiologic investigation instruments which contribute to the decrease in specific disease-related morbidity and mortality. According to the findings in recent research of public health screening for cancer, effective screening programs help to prevent diseases through early detection of symptoms and, in this way, facilitate treatment (Henley et al., 2010, p. 1). Thus, screening is an effective preventive service associated with multiple advantages in the health intervention within the risk population and reduction of epidemiological progression of diseases.
Similar to screening, surveillance programs are aimed at early detection of different disease indicators to decrease the incidence of and mortality from severe disorders. Multiple demographic surveillance systems are implemented to provide “a framework for prospective collection of demographic and public health data within a community” (Homan et al., 2015, p. 1). The longitudinal demographic data collected by surveillance systems are used to research health-related issues within the community population. For example, National Oral Health Surveillance System strives to prevent over seventy chronic disorders according to standard definitions for chronic disease indicators released by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, including such diseases as cancer of oral cavity and pharynx (Barker, Malvitz, & Phipps, 2009, p. 2).
According to Nunn, Lalli, Fortune, and Croucher (2009), oral cancer is associated with great potential for its early detection because “oral cavity and oropharynx are relatively accessible and amenable to examination without invasive procedures” (p. S69). Based on this, visual screening programs have a significant potential for the prevention of malignant oral tumors. The researchers suggest practitioners use visual examinations of the oral cavity in the general population as a part of routine screening in dental practice (Nunn et al., 2009, p. S69). The initiation of a national oral cancer screening program which would include the repeated annual visual examination is characterized by cost-efficiency and a high level of diverse patients’ access. And the implementation of such a program may lead to the reduction of oral cancer development in a large stratum of the general population.
Aschengrau, A., & Seage, G. R. (2014). Essentials of epidemiology in public health. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publication.
Barker, L., Malvitz, D. M., & Phipps, K. R. (2009). Development and Status of the National Oral Health Surveillance System. Preventing Chronic Disease,6(2), 1-7.
Henley, S. J., King, J. B., German, R. R., Richardson, L. C., & Plescia, M. (2010). Surveillance of Screening-Detected Cancers (Colon and Rectum, Breast, and Cervix) — United States, 2004-2006. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 59(SS-9), 1-25.
Homan, T., Di Pasquale, A., Kiche, I., Onoka, K., Hiscox, A., Mweresa, C., &… Maire, N. (2015). Innovative tools and OpenHDS for health and demographic surveillance on Rusinga Island, Kenya. BMC Research Notes, 8(1), 1-11. Web.
Nunn, H., Lalli, A., Fortune, F., & Croucher, R. (2009). Oral cancer screening in the Bangladeshi community of Tower Hamlets: a social model. British Journal of Cancer, 101(Suppl 2), S68–S72. Web.