“Oral health has long been ignored in global health, but many oral diseases may be prevented and treated using the cost-effective approaches suggested in this study,” stated Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization.
In a first-of-its-kind global review, the Global Oral Health Status Report analyzed important areas and indicators in 194 nations and found that the number of cases has increased by one billion over the past three decades. According to the WHO, the primary cause is that many people lack access to prevention and treatment.
The most prevalent oral disorders are caused by dental caries. Gum disease, tooth loss, and oral malignancies are among the most prominent oral disorders, although tooth decay is the most prevalent ailment worldwide, impacting over 2.5 billion individuals.
It is estimated that one billion individuals worldwide suffer from severe gum disease, a leading cause of tooth loss and that approximately 380,000 new cases of oral cancer are discovered each year.
The paper emphasizes disparities in access to oral health services, with underprivileged and vulnerable people being the most affected. WHO reports that people with poor incomes and disabilities, older people living alone or in care facilities, those living in distant and rural areas, and members of minority groups are more susceptible to oral infections.
The pattern of inequity mimics other noncommunicable diseases, from cardiovascular diseases to diabetes and mental disorders (NCDs). And risk factors associated with noncommunicable diseases, such as excessive sugar consumption, tobacco, and alcohol, also contribute to the global oral health issue.
“WHO is committed to providing guidance and support to countries so that all people, no matter where they live or how much money they have, have the information and skills necessary to care for their teeth and mouths and can access services for prevention and care when they need them,” Tedros said.
Only a small fraction of the world’s population has access to vital oral health care, and those with the greatest need frequently have the least coverage. The paper identifies significant barriers to oral health care, such as high out-of-pocket expenses, which sometimes result in catastrophic consequences and a financial burden for families and communities.
In addition, highly specialized practitioners utilize costly high-tech equipment, and these services are not incorporated into models of primary health care. Inadequate information and monitoring systems, coupled with a lack of emphasis on oral health research, impede the development of more effective therapies and policies.
However, there are potential to enhance global oral health by adopting a public health approach that addresses common risk factors. These include the promotion of a well-balanced, low-sugar diet, the cessation of tobacco use, the reduction of alcohol intake, and the improvement of access to fluoride toothpaste.
Other solutions outlined in the report include the incorporation of oral health into national health services, the redefinition of oral health workforces in response to population needs, the expansion of oral health service coverage, and the collection and integration of oral health data into national health monitoring systems.