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What is epidemiology?

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    Epidemiology deals mainly with the identification of the principal factors or variables that influence a certain disease (Kleinbaum et al. 2007, p. 8). By definition epidemiology is the "study of the distribution and determinants of health related states or events in certain population groups and the use of the study results to control health problems" (Porta and Last 2008).

    It is apparent from this definition that epidemiology is a science that deals with the disease in population groups and not with the disease of an individual patient. The study results of an individual patient can differ greatly from the study results of the population group to which he belongs.

    Epidemiology pursues three aims, as can be seen from the above definition:
    • Recording the frequency and distribution of a disease in the population
    • Determine reasons for the disease
    • Use of this knowledge to monitor the disease
    Epidemiological studies form the basis for political decisions intended to influence the health of the entire population.
    An example of a successful political intervention on the basis of an epidemiological study is fluoridation of drinking water in the USA, which led to a lower rate of caries.
    The data for evidence-based dentistry is based in many cases on the results of epidemiological studies.
    To be able to draw a conclusion about the presence or new development of diseases in a population group, these must be recorded systematically. Epidemiology is based on precisely defined study designs and parameters.
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    • Kleinbaum, David G.; Sullivan, Kevin M.; Barker, Nancy D. (2007): A pocket guide to epidemiology. New York: Springer
    • Porta, Miquel S.; Last, John M. (2008): A dictionary of epidemiology. 5th ed. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press