WHO Releases Fact Sheet on Oral Health

Worldwide, 60-90 percent of school children and nearly 100 percent of adults have dental cavities.

Oral health is essential to general health and quality of life. It is a state of being free from 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.

Oral diseases and conditions: The most common oral diseases are dental cavities, periodontal (gum) disease, oral cancer, oral infectious diseases, trauma from injuries, and hereditary lesions.

Dental cavities: Worldwide, 60-90 percent of school children and nearly 100 percent of adults have dental cavities, often leading to pain and discomfort.

Periodontal disease: Severe periodontal (gum) disease, which may result in tooth loss, is found in 15-20 percent of middle-aged (35-44 years) adults.

Tooth loss: Dental cavities and periodontal disease are major causes of tooth loss. Complete loss of natural teeth is widespread and particularly affects older people. Globally, about 30 percent of people aged 65-74 have no natural teeth.

Oral Cancer: 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 major causal factors.

Fungal, bacterial or viral infections in HIV: Almost half (40-50 percent) of people who are HIV-positive have oral fungal, bacterial, or viral infections. These often occur early in the course of HIV infection.

Oro-dental trauma: Across the world, 16-40 percent of children in the age range 6 to12 years old are affected by dental trauma due to unsafe playgrounds, unsafe schools, road accidents, or violence.

Noma: Noma is a gangrenous lesion that affects young children living in extreme poverty primarily in Africa and Asia. Lesions are severe gingival disease followed by necrosis (premature death of cells in living tissue) of lips and chin. Many children affected by noma suffer from other infections such as measles and HIV. Without any treatment, about 90 percent of these children die.

Cleft lip and palate: 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.

Risk factors for oral diseases include an unhealthy diet, tobacco use, and harmful alcohol use. These are also risk factors for the four leading chronic diseases—cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes—and oral diseases are often linked to chronic disease. Poor oral hygiene is also a risk factor for oral disease.

The prevalence of oral disease varies by geographical region, and availability and accessibility of oral health services. Social determinants in oral health are also very strong. The prevalence of oral diseases is increasing in low- and middle-income countries, and in all countries, the oral disease burden is significantly higher among poor and disadvantaged population groups.

The burden of oral diseases and other chronic diseases can be decreased simultaneously by addressing common risk factors. These include:

  • decreasing sugar intake and maintaining a well-balanced nutritional intake to prevent tooth decay and premature tooth loss;
  • consuming fruit and vegetables that can protect against oral cancer;
  • stopping tobacco use, and decreasing alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of oral cancers, periodontal disease and tooth loss;
  • ensuring proper oral hygiene;
  • using protective sports and motor vehicle equipment to reduce the risk of facial injuries; and
  • safe physical environments.

Dental cavities can be prevented by maintaining a constant low level of fluoride in the oral cavity. Fluoride can be obtained from fluoridated drinking water, salt, milk, and toothpaste as well as from professionally applied fluoride or mouth rinse. Long-term exposure to an optimal level of fluoride results in fewer dental cavities in both children and adults.

Most oral diseases and conditions require professional dental care, however, due to limited availability or inaccessibility, the use of oral health services is markedly low among older people, people living in rural areas, and people with low income and education. Oral health care coverage is low in low- and middle- income countries.

Traditional curative dental care is a significant economic burden for many high-income countries, where 5-10 percent of public health expenditure relates to oral health. In low- and middle-income countries, public oral health programs are rare.

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