News + Issues

An update on global oral health

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As children, we were all told to brush our teeth twice a day and floss on a regular basis. I’ll be the first to admit that the younger version of myself didn’t think twice about skipping those responsibilities a few times a week. Naturally, a few cavities developed, as I found out during regular visits to the dentist’s office.

According to the World Health Organization in April 2012, 60-90% of school children worldwide have dental cavities. As people age, their oral health deteriorates with a lack of proper care. Almost 100% of adults have cavities, which are the greatest indicator of subsequent oral health issues. By adulthood (35-44 years), 15-20% of people have severe periodontal disease. By a later age (65-74 years), 30% of people have no natural teeth.

These statistics are staggering, but not surprising given further data. Although high-income countries have basic oral healthcare readily available with preventative and treatment measures in place, oral health programs only account for 5-10% of their public health spending. In developing countries, these programs are highly uncommon.

Studies suggest a frightening increase in the prevalence of dental cavities on a global scale, especially in developing countries. Contributing to the surge is a change in diet in developing countries, with an increase in sugar uptake and tobacco usage. With the lack of oral health programs, many preventative measures are missing, leaving people inadequately exposed to fluoride, among other things. These countries are ill equipped to provide proper treatment, resulting in untreated or simply extracted teeth to remove pain and discomfort. Dental professionals predict detrimental consequences if the current situation continues.

The World Health Organization strongly suggests educating people in preventative behaviors in conjunction with providing adequate oral health systems in order to reduce oral disease. Lifestyle factors such as unhealthy diets and tobacco use must be reduced through education and awareness. Populations must have access to safe, fluoridated water and basic oral hygiene tools. Treatments must be available and readily accessible to patients who need care. Countries should adopt oral health policies and programs in order to establish standardized measures for education and treatment. Not only will following the proposed guidelines positively affect oral health but it will also affect systemic health and the ultimate quality of life of people throughout the world.

~ Richard Shen, New York ’18, predental

Richard Shen

Richard Shen is a third-year dental student at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. He completed his undergraduate degree at New York University. His professional interests include esthetics dentistry and business in dentistry.

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  1. I agree that educating the people is one of the best way to prevent oral disease.
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  2. sad to know about the statistics…but good opportunity for us in the dental profession to really educate people about oral health.
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  3. Dental care boils down to the basics. Brushing at an early age is a good practice that needs to be carried out for a lifetime.

  4. This is some pretty amazing statistics that you have shared here, Richard. Hope this helps make people aware of the importance of maintaining a good oral hygiene right from an early age. Thanks for sharing this informative article!

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