Conventional oral health education is not effective nor efficient. Many oral health programmes are developed and implemented in isolation from other health programmes. This often leads, at best to a duplication of effort, or worse, conflicting messages being delivered to the public. In addition, oral health programmes tend to concentrate on individual behaviour change and largely ignore the influence of socio-political factors as the key determinants of health. Based upon the general principles of health promotion this paper presents a rationale for an alternative approach for oral health policy. The common risk factor approach addresses risk factors common to many chronic conditions within the context of the wider socio-environmental milieu. Oral health is determined by diet, hygiene, smoking, alcohol use, stress and trauma. As these causes are common to a number of other chronic diseases, adopting a collaborative approach is more rational than one that is disease specific. The common risk factor approach can be implemented in a variety of ways. Food policy development and the Health Promoting Schools initiative are used as examples of effective ways of promoting oral health.