A new report highlighted glaring inequities in access to oral health services, saying the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations have been hit hard.
“Oral health has long been neglected in global health policies,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, emphasizing that “many oral diseases can be prevented and treated with inexpensive interventions.”
The UN health agency found that 45% of the world’s population, or around 3.5 billion people, struggle with tooth decay, gum disease and other oral diseases.
The report, the first comprehensive picture of the situation in 194 countries, found that the number of cases worldwide has risen by a billion over the past 30 years.
The WHO said this is “a clear indication that many people do not have access to oral disease prevention and treatment”.
The most common diseases are tooth decay or tooth decay, severe gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancer.
Untreated dental caries is the most common disease affecting approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide.
Severe gum disease, a leading cause of total tooth loss, is estimated to affect approximately one billion people.
And about 380,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year, the WHO said.
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According to the report, three quarters of people suffering from oral diseases live in low- and middle-income countries.
And in all countries, low-income people, the disabled, the elderly living alone or in nursing homes, people living in remote and rural communities, or minority groups carry a higher burden of oral disease, it said.
These patterns are also found in other non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, according to the WHO.
Risk factors are also similar, with high sugar intake, tobacco use, and alcohol abuse taking their toll.
The report highlighted barriers to the delivery of adequate oral health services, including dental visits, which often involve high out-of-pocket expenses.
This could result in “catastrophic costs and significant financial burdens for families and communities,” the WHO said.
At the same time, reliance on highly specialized providers and high-tech devices makes these services inaccessible to many.
Inadequate information and monitoring also mean that many people wait far too long before seeking or receiving treatment.
The WHO put forward a long list of proposals to address the problem, including requiring countries to include oral health services in their primary health care systems.
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