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Oral health

WHAT IS ORAL HEALTH?

Oral health means being free of chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral sores, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay and tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that affect the mouth and oral cavity.

WHAT ARE COMMON CAUSES OF ORAL DISEASE?

Oral diseases share common risk factors with the four leading chronic diseases -- cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes -- including unhealthy diet, tobacco use, and harmful alcohol use. Poor oral hygiene is also a risk factor.

ORAL HEALTH FACTS

  • The most common oral diseases are dental cavities and periodontal (gum) disease.
  • 60-90% of school children worldwide have dental cavities.
  • Severe periodontal (gum) disease, which may result in tooth loss, is found in 5-20% of middle-aged adults; the rate varies across geographical regions.
  • Incidence of oral cancer ranges from one to 10 cases per 100 000 population in most countries.
  • Birth defects such as cleft lip and palate occur in around one per 500-700 of all births; the birth prevalence rate varies substantially across ethnic groups and geographical areas.
  • 40-50% of people who are HIV-positive have oral fungal, bacterial or viral infections, which often occur early in the course of HIV infection.
  • Traditional curative dental care is a significant economic burden for many high-income countries, where 5-10% of public health expenditure relates to oral health.

HOW CAN THE BURDEN OF ORAL DISEASES BE REDUCED?

The burden of oral diseases and other chronic diseases can be decreased simultaneously by addressing common risk factors such as tobacco use and unhealthy diet:

  • Decreased intake of sugars and well-balanced nutrition prevent tooth decay and premature tooth loss.
  • Tobacco cessation and decreased alcohol consumption reduce risk for oral cancers, periodontal disease, and tooth loss.
  • Fruit and vegetable consumption is protective against oral cancer.
  • Effective use of protective sports and motor vehicle equipment reduces facial injuries.

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

By using these prevention strategies, the high cost of dental treatments can be avoided.

WHO ACTIVITES FOR INTEGRATED PREVENTION OF ORAL DISEASE AND HEALTH PROMOTION

The public health solutions for oral diseases are most effective when they are integrated with other chronic diseases and with national public health programmes. The activities of the World Health Organization (WHO) span advocacy, prevention and treatment:

  • Advocacy for a common risk factor approach to prevent oral and other chronic diseases simultaneously;
  • Fluoridation programmes to improve fluoride access in low-income countries;
  • Technical support for countries that are integrating oral health into their public health systems.

WHO STRATEGY FOR PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF CHRONIC DISEASE

WHO's oral health activities are integrated into the overall WHO chronic disease prevention and control framework of the Department of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion. The strategic objectives of the Department are to raise awareness about the global epidemic of chronic diseases; create healthy environments, especially for poor and disadvantaged populations; slow and reverse trends in common chronic disease risk factors such as unhealthy diet and physical inactivity; and prevent premature deaths and avoidable disability due to major chronic diseases.


Sources: US Department of Health; The World Health Organization


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