Measuring oral health—How can the International Classification of Functioning help?

Denise Faulks*, Sasha Scambler, Blánaid Daly, Lisa Jamieson, Martine Hennequin, Georgios Tsakos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


There is a need for a theoretically informed, contextualized approach to measuring oral health from a multidisciplinary perspective that goes beyond the commonly used clinical indices and sociodental measures. This commentary aims to discuss the potential for the WHO's International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) to provide a model for the development of indicators for oral health. It is suggested that the ICF might provide both a theoretical model and an operational classification for indicators of oral health. The ICF model states that human experience of physical, cognitive and social functioning is universal and, thus, can be described and qualified. Human function is given social and environmental context within the model at both an individual and population level. The ICF can not only capture data regarding oral health and function at the physiological level (e.g. chewing) but also at the social level (e.g. sharing meals). It is able not only to capture aspects of preventive behaviour (e.g. caring for teeth) but also aspects of social facilitation (e.g. economic self-sufficiency) or ability to fulfil a social role (e.g. remunerative employment). It also includes aspects of social environment, such as healthcare services or political, economic and legal systems. Case studies are given as examples of the potential use of the ICF in the oral health domain. Examples are also given of the first steps that have been made towards operationalization of the ICF in data collection and oral health research. The challenges of encompassing such a comprehensive model into a practical oral health measure are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCommunity Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology
Early online date2 Feb 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Feb 2022


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