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Oral healthcare crisis has long been overlooked across the globe

Oral health is largely overlooked by the global health community, even though 3.5 billion people are affected by oral diseases worldwide, nearly half the global population. 

Modern dentistry revolves on a treat first model, and prevention is rarely factored into oral health policies. 

The Lancet recently published a Series on Oral Health which addresses these major failings. Thirteen experts from 10 countries led by the University of College London reviewed three decades of oral health data for the series. 

There have been major advancements in dentistry, and we have a better understanding of the causes of tooth decay and gum disease. However, the global burden of oral diseases remains high, especially among low and middle-income countries.

Dental decay is one of the most common health conditions worldwide, but the high costs of care represent a significant barrier for seeking treatment. 

Modern dentistry needs radical reform, according to the researchers. Sugar, alcohol, and tobacco are all risk factors in gum disease and tooth decay, but in high-income countries, dental practices are trapped in a “treatment-over-prevention” cycle. 

“We need tighter regulation and legislation to restrict marketing and influence of the sugar, tobacco and alcohol industries, if we are to tackle the root causes of oral conditions,” said Professor Richard Watt, the lead author of the series.

Raising awareness about prevention is key, but the global health community can only do so much when competing with food and beverage corporations that market sugary beverages and alcohol. 

In middle-income countries, oral care is not as advanced as it is in high-income countries, and in low-income countries, even the most basic dental care is inaccessible or unavailable. 

“Current dental care and public health responses have been largely inadequate, inequitable, and costly, leaving billions of people without access to even basic oral health care,” said Watt. “While this breakdown in the delivery of oral healthcare is not the fault of individual dental clinicians committed to caring for their patients, a fundamentally different approach is required to effectively tackle the global burden of oral diseases.”

The researchers highlight some key areas in dental care where improvements are needed most. 

First, the divide between dental and general healthcare needs to be closed, and future dental education must center around prevention first. Oral healthcare must be accessible to all, and policies need to target the underlying causes of oral disease. 

“A clear need exists for broader accessibility and integration of dental services into healthcare systems, especially primary care, and for oral health to have more prominence within universal health coverage commitments,” said Dr. Jocalyn Clark, an Executive Editor at the Lancet. 

“Everyone who cares about global health should advocate to end the neglect of oral health.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

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