A new report from the World Health Organization provides the first-ever comprehensive picture of oral disease with data for 194 nations. (Courtesy photo)
A new report from the World Health Organization provides the first-ever comprehensive picture of oral disease with data for 194 nations. (Courtesy photo)

A new Global Oral Health Status Report shows that almost half of the world’s population (45% or 3.5 billion people) suffers from oral diseases, with three out of every four affected people living in low- and middle-income countries. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) report, published in November, provides the first-ever comprehensive picture of oral disease burden with data profiles for 194 nations. 

It also outlines how global cases of oral diseases have increased by 1 billion over the past 30 years — 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.”

WHO says 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 1 billion people worldwide. 

In addition, about 380,000 new cases of oral cancers are diagnosed yearly.

The report also 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 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.

WHO said this pattern of inequalities is similar to other noncommunicable diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental disorders. 

“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,” the organization said in a statement.

Essential oral health services cover only a small percentage of the global population, and those with the greatest need often have the least access to services. 

The key barriers to delivering access to oral health services for all include high out-of-pocket costs, expensive high-tech equipment and materials, and poor information and surveillance systems.

In response, the report provides recommendations to improve global oral health, including adopting a public health approach by addressing common risk factors, planning oral health services as part of national health, and integrating oral health data into national health monitoring systems.

“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 Noncommunicable Diseases. 

“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.”

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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