By Sharon Atieno

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, a new report by World Health Organization (WHO) says.

The new Global Oral Health Status Report which contains data profiles from 194 countries finds that untreated tooth decay, is the single most common condition globally, affecting an estimated 2.5 billion people.

Worse still, severe gum disease ̶ a major cause of total tooth loss ̶ is estimated to affect one billion people worldwide while about 380 000 new cases of oral cancers are diagnosed every year.

According to the report, inequalities to accessing oral health services has resulted in 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 carrying a higher burden 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.

The measures include, adopting a public health approach by addressing common risk factors through promoting a well-balanced diet low in sugars, stopping use of all forms of tobacco, reducing alcohol consumption and improving access to effective and affordable fluoride toothpaste.

Also, planning oral health services as part of national health and improving integration of oral health services in primary health care as part of universal health coverage.

Other measures include redefining oral health workforce models to respond to population needs and expanding competencies of non-dental healthcare workers to expand oral health service coverage; and strengthening information systems by collecting 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 in a statement.

“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.”