Oral health is an important element of general health and well-being. Although largely preventable, many people across the world still suffer unnecessarily from the pain and discomfort associated with oral diseases. In addition, the costs of dental treatment are high, both to the individual and to society. Effective evidence-based preventive approaches are needed to address this major public health problem. The aim of this paper is to outline public health strategies to promote oral health and reduce inequalities. An extensive collection of public health policy documents produced by WHO are reviewed to guide the development of oral health strategies. In addition a range of Cochrane and other systematic reviews assessing the evidence base for oral health interventions are summarized. Public health strategies should tackle the underlying social determinants of oral health through the adoption of a common risk approach. Isolated interventions which merely focus on changing oral health behaviours will not achieve sustainable improvements in oral health. Radical public health action on the conditions which determine unhealthy behaviours across the population is needed rather than relying solely on the high-risk approach. Based upon the Ottawa Charter, a range of complementary strategies can be implemented in partnership with relevant local, national and international agencies. At the core of this public health approach is the need to empower local communities to become actively involved in efforts to promote their oral health.