In recent years public health research has increasingly focused upon exploring the social determinants of health. This interest has partly arisen through an acknowledgement of the limitations of educational preventive approaches in improving population health and reducing health inequalities. Many health education interventions have been influenced by health behaviour research based upon psychological theories and models. These theories focus at an individual level and seek to explore cognitive and affective processes determining behaviour and lifestyle. Current psychological theories have only a limited value in the development of public health action on altering the underlying social determinants of health. New theoretical approaches have however, emerged which explore the relationship between the social environment and health. This paper aims to review and highlight the potential value to oral health promotion of three important public health theoretical approaches: life course analysis, salutogenic model and social capital. It is important that an informed debate takes place over the theoretical basis of oral health promotion. As the field of oral health promotion develops it is essential that it is guided by contemporary and appropriate theoretical frameworks to ensure that more effective action is implemented in the future.