Almost half of the world’s population suffers from oral diseases, with 3 out of every 4 affected people living in low- and middle-income countries, according to a new Global Oral Health Status Report published by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The report, which provides the first-ever comprehensive picture of oral disease burden with data profiles for 194 countries, shows global cases of oral diseases have increased by 1 billion over the last 30 years. According to a WHO statement, this is a clear indication that many people do not have access to the prevention and treatment of oral diseases.
“Oral health has long been neglected in global health, but many oral diseases can be prevented and treated with the cost-effective measures outlined in this report,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“WHO is committed to providing guidance and support to countries so that all people, wherever they live and whatever their income, have the knowledge and tools needed to look after their teeth and mouths and to access services for prevention and care when they need them.”
The report shows the most common oral diseases are dental caries, or tooth decay, severe gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancers. Untreated dental caries is the single most common condition globally, affecting an estimated 2.5 billion people.
Severe gum disease, a major cause of total tooth loss, is estimated to affect 1 billion people worldwide. About 380, 000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed every year. The report underscores the glaring inequalities in access to oral health services, with a huge burden of oral diseases and conditions affecting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.
People on low incomes, people living with disabilities, older people living alone or in care homes, those living in remote and rural communities, and people from minority groups all carry a higher burden of oral diseases.
This pattern of inequalities is similar to that of other non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental disorders. Risk factors common to non-communicable diseases, such as high sugar intake, all forms of tobacco use, and harmful use of alcohol, all contribute to the global oral health crisis.
Only a small percentage of the global population is covered by essential oral health services, and those with the greatest need often have the least access to these services. According to WHO, the main barriers to providing access to oral health services are that the service requires high out-of-pocket expenditures and relies heavily on highly specialized providers using expensive high-tech equipment and materials, and that these services are not well integrated with primary health care models.
But, even with these challenges, researchers make recommendations in the report that could improve global oral health, which include adopting a public health approach by addressing common risk factors through promoting a well-balanced diet low in sugars, stopping the use of all forms of tobacco, reducing alcohol consumption, and improving access to effective and affordable fluoride toothpaste.
They also recommend redefining oral health workforce models to respond to population needs and expanding the competencies of non-dental healthcare workers to expand oral health service coverage. “Placing people at the heart of oral health services is critical if we are to achieve the vision of universal health coverage for all individuals and communities by 2030,” said Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, WHO Director for Non-communicable Diseases.
She added, “This report acts as a starting point by providing baseline information to help countries monitor the progress of implementation while also providing timely and relevant feedback to decision-makers at the national level.” Together, we can change the current situation of oral health neglect.
The Global Oral Health Status Report uses the latest available data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and global WHO surveys.