OBJECTIVES: Health literacy encompasses several abilities including word recognition, reading comprehension, communication skills, and conceptual knowledge. To date, conceptual knowledge has not been included in oral health literacy research. This study assesses the validity and reliability of a new instrument and describes conceptual oral health knowledge among a sample of low-income adults.
METHODS: One hundred Baltimore adults were administered the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM), Short Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (Short-TOFHLA), and a new survey of conceptual oral health knowledge. Respondents were also asked about sociodemographics, dental health, and utilization.
RESULTS: Psychometric analysis was used to identify a subset of oral health knowledge questions from the new survey instrument. The resulting Comprehensive Measure of Oral Health Knowledge (CMOHK) was categorized into three levels of knowledge (poor, fair, good). Nearly one-third of Baltimore adults exhibited the lowest level. CMOHK scores were significantly associated with age, education level, and word recognition (REALM). CMOHK scores were not associated with reading comprehension (Short-TOFHLA) or dental care visits. Instrument reliability was good (Cronbach alpha = 0.74).
CONCLUSIONS: This preliminary study yielded a new measure of oral health conceptual knowledge, available for use in future oral health literacy studies. The author presents a conceptual framework of oral health literacy that separates health literacy into four unique components and places decision-making at the center. Future studies are needed to determine whether this framework is supported by empirical data and leads to improvements in oral health and reductions in health disparities.