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Oral Health: A Worldwide Fact Sheet

Updated: 9 April 2019

What is oral health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines oral health as a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral infection and sores, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that limit an individual’s capacity in biting, chewing, smiling, speaking, and psychosocial wellbeing.

What are the effects of poor oral hygiene and inadequate dental care to people all around the world?

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Oral diseases affected 50% of the world’s population (3.58 billion people) with tooth decay in permanent teeth being the most prevalent condition assessed.

  • Severe periodontal (gum) disease which may result in tooth loss, was estimated to be the 11th most prevalent disease worldwide.

  • The main causes of periodontal disease are poor oral hygiene and tobacco use.

  • Tooth decay and gum diseases are major causes of tooth loss. Severe tooth loss and edentulism (no natural teeth remaining) are widespread and particularly seen among older people.

  • The incidence of oral cancer (cancer of the lip and oral cavity) in some Asian-Pacific countries is within the top 3 of all cancers. Tobacco, alcohol and areca nut use are among the leading causes of oral cancer.

  • In regions like North America and Europe, “high risk” human papillomavirus infections are responsible for a growing percentage of oropharyngeal cancers among young people.

  • Diabetes mellitus is linked in a reciprocal way with the development and progression of periodontitis.

  • There is a causal link between high sugars consumption and diabetes, obesity and dental caries.

  • Clefts of the lip and palate affect more than 1 in 1000 newborns worldwide. This heterogeneous disorder occurs either alone (70%) or as part of a syndrome.

  • Oral manifestations occur in 30–80% of people with HIV. Oral manifestations include fungal, bacterial or viral infections of which oral candidiasis is the most common and often the first symptom early in the course of the disease.

  • Noma, a necrotizing disease mostly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, is a condition that affects children between the ages of 2 and 6 years suffering from malnutrition, affected by infectious disease, living in extreme poverty and with weakened immune systems. In 1998, WHO estimated that there were 140,000 new cases of noma annually. Without treatment, noma is fatal in 90% of cases.

  • Poor oral hygiene and inadequate exposure to fluoride have negative effects on oral health.

Additional facts from FDI World Dental Federation:

  • Oral cancer is among the ten most common cancers worldwide.

  • Consuming excessive amounts of sugar from snacks, processed food and soft drinks is a leading risk factor for oral disease. The risk of dental caries increases if you consume sugar more than four times a day and/or when you consume more than 50 grams (approximately 12 teaspoons) per day.

  • The most significant effects of smoking on the oral cavity are oral cancers and pre-cancers, increased severity and extent of periodontal diseases, as well as poor wound healing.

Recommendations on how to prevent oral diseases

  • Brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste and floss once a day
  • Ensure regular dental checkups
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol and chewing of areca nuts
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet that is low in free sugars
  • Use mouthguards when participating in sports

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