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Oral health neglected by almost half of world’s population

Posted on the 30th November 2022

Oral Health Report

A new report by the World Health Organization has revealed the shocking state of the world’s oral healthcare, with almost half of the population (45 per cent) suffering some form of oral disease.

The Global Oral Health Status Report shows that 3.5 billion people around the world are impacted by poor oral health, including decay, gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancer.

Untreated tooth decay 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 cancers are diagnosed every year.

The study provides the first-ever comprehensive picture of oral disease burden, with data profiles for 194 countries giving unique insights into key areas and markers of oral health that are relevant for decision-makers.

The report highlights 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 carry a higher burden of oral diseases.

This pattern of inequalities is similar to other non-communicable diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental disorders.

Risk factors common to these 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.

The report outlines key barriers to oral health services, including high out-of-pocket expenditures, which often lead to catastrophic costs and financial burdens for families and communities.

Additionally, highly specialized providers use expensive high-tech equipment and these services are not integrated with primary healthcare models.

Moreover, poor information and surveillance systems, combined with low priority for oral health research, are bottlenecks to developing more effective interventions and policies.

It also details opportunities to improve global oral health.

These include adopting improved public health approaches that address common risk factors, such as promoting well-balanced diets, sugar reduction, stopping tobacco use, reducing alcohol consumption, and improving access to fluoride toothpaste.

Other solutions outlined in the report support making oral health part of national health services; redefining oral health workforces to respond to population needs; expanding oral health service coverage; and collecting and integrating oral health data into national health monitoring systems.

Related: Health inequalities widening for minorities post-pandemic

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