WHO highlights oral health neglect affecting nearly half the world’s population

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A new Global Oral Health Status Report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) 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 shows that almost half of the world’s population (3.5 billion people) suffer from oral diseases, with three out of every four affected people living in low- and middle-income countries. Global cases of oral diseases have increased by one billion over the last 30 years—a clear indication that many people do not have access to 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,” WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. 

“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 most common oral diseases are dental caries (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 one billion people worldwide. About 380,000 new cases of oral cancers 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 carry a higher burden of oral diseases. 

Risk factors common to noncommunicable 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 services. 

The report showcases many promising opportunities to improve the state of global oral health.

“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,” WHO director for noncommunicable diseases Dr Bente Mikkelsen said.

“This report acts as a starting point by providing baseline information to help countries monitor 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.”

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