WHO highlights the neglect of oral health, which affects almost half of the world’s population

New Global Oral Health Status Report published today by the World Health Organization (WHO), provides the first ever comprehensive picture of the burden of oral disease with data profiles for 194 countries, providing unique insight into key areas and markers of oral health that are relevant to the decision makers.

The report shows that almost half of the world’s population (45% or 3.5 billion people) suffers from oral diseases, with 3 out of 4 affected people living in low- and middle-income countries. Global cases of oral disease have increased by 1 billion in the past 30 years, a clear indication that many people do not have access to oral disease prevention and treatment.

“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, regardless of where they live and whatever their income, have the knowledge and tools they need to care for their teeth and mouths and can access services for prevention and care when they need it.”

Rapid increase in oral diseases

The most common oral diseases are dental caries (tooth decay), severe gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancer. Untreated dental caries is the most common condition worldwide, affecting approximately 2.5 billion people. Severe gum disease ̶ a major cause of complete tooth loss ̶ is estimated to affect 1 billion people worldwide. About 380,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year.

The report highlights 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 bear a greater burden of oral disease.

This pattern of inequalities is similar to other non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental disorders. Risk factors common to noncommunicable diseases, such as high sugar intake, all forms of tobacco use, and harmful alcohol use, are contributing to the global oral health crisis.

Barriers to providing oral health services

Only a small percentage of the world’s population is covered by basic oral health services, and those in greatest need often have the least access to services. The main barriers to providing access to oral health services for all include:

  1. Oral health care requires large out-of-pocket costs. This often results in catastrophic costs and a significant financial burden on families and communities.
  2. The provision of oral health services relies heavily on highly specialized providers using expensive high-tech equipment and materials, and these services are not well integrated with primary care models.
  3. Poor information and surveillance systems combined with a low priority of public oral health research are major obstacles to the development of more effective oral health interventions and policies.

Opportunities to improve global oral health

The report shows many promising opportunities to improve the state of global oral health, including:

  • adopting a public health approach by addressing common risk factors by 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 toothpaste with fluorine.
  • planning oral health services as part of national health care and improving the integration of oral health services in primary health care as part of universal health coverage.
  • redefining oral health workforce models to meet population needs and expanding the competencies of non-dental health workers to expand the reach of oral health services; and
  • strengthening information systems by collecting and integrating oral health data into national health monitoring systems.

“Putting people at the center 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 of Noncommunicable Diseases.

She added: “This report acts as a reference point, providing essential information to help countries monitor implementation progress, while providing timely and relevant feedback to national decision-makers. Together we can change the current situation of oral health neglect.”

Note to editors

To watch the launch event of Friday 18 November from 14.00 – 15.30 CETplease register at https://who.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_hDqiDjW9TBm4fSVljj3zQw.

The Global Oral Health Report uses the latest available data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and WHO global surveys. The report is aimed at policy makers, practitioners, researchers, development agencies and members of the private sector and civil society.

In 2022, the World Health Assembly adopted a global oral health strategy with a vision of universal oral health coverage for all individuals and communities by 2030. A detailed action plan is being developed to help countries transform the global strategy in practice. This includes a monitoring framework to track progress with measurable targets to be achieved by 2030.

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