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Tooth Decay & Oral Health: Fact Sheets

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So much has been written about prevention and cure of tooth decay (also known as caries or cavities) and gum disease. We think it’s time we all get down to the facts. What are the effects of poor oral hygiene and inadequate dental care to people all around the world?

SEE ALSO: 10 Commonly Asked Questions About Cavity Treatment

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Worldwide, 60–90% of school children and nearly 100% of adults have dental cavities.
  • Dental cavities can be prevented by maintaining a constant low level of fluoride in the oral cavity.
  • Severe gum (periodontal) disease, which may result in tooth loss, is found in 15–20% of middle-aged (35-44 years) adults.
  • Around the world, about 30% of people aged 65–74 have no natural teeth.
  • The incidence of oral cancer ranges from one to 10 cases per 100 000 people in most countries. The prevalence of oral cancer is relatively higher in men, in older people, and among people of low education and low income.
  • Tobacco and alcohol are the major risk factors for oral cancer.
  • Almost half (40–50%) of people who are HIV-positive have oral fungal, bacterial or viral infections.
  • Across the world, 16-40% of children in the age range 6 to12 years old are affected by dental trauma due to unsafe schools, unsafe playgrounds, road accidents, or violence.
  • A severe gingival disease called Noma affects young children living in extreme poverty primarily in Africa & Asia. This gangrenous lesion is followed by necrosis (premature death of cells in living tissue) of the lips and chin. Left untreated, about 90% of these children die.
  • Birth defects such as cleft lip and palate occur in about one per 500–700 of all births. This rate varies substantially across different ethnic groups and geographical areas.

According to the Oral Health Worldwide Report by FDI World Federation:

  • Oral cancer is the world’s 8th most common cancer and the 3rd most common cancer in Southeast Asia.
  • Fifty percent (50%) of gum disease is caused by tobacco use. Half of all lifetime smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.
  • Oral conditions are the most common conditions of humankind. Untreated tooth decay was identified as the most common condition among 291 diseases studied.
  • In 1996, oral diseases resulted in 2.4 million days of work and 1.6 million days of school lost in the United States alone. In Thailand, dental problems caused 1,900 hours of school lost per 1,000 children in 2008. Thus, oral diseases are major causes of economic and social loss for individuals and countries.
  • Regular toothbrushing, at least in the morning after breakfast and in the evening before going to sleep, using fluoride toothpaste is highly effective in preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
  • 25% of all genetic birth defects are craniofacial malformations and the most common congenital malformations include cleft lip and palate.

Tooth decay requires immediate treatment. The longer a cavity remains untreated, the larger and deeper it grows, and it only gets more expensive to repair.

The good news is that tooth decay is largely preventable. Observing proper oral care, maintaining a healthy diet and visiting your dentist at least two times a year are your best chances in fighting cavities and other gum diseases.

Updated: 13 March 2016

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