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Poor dental health threatens developing countries

WHO has established that dental health is a crucial factor for quality of life. Nevertheless, dental health is an ignored global health issue.

For instance, few people know that caries (cavaties) is the most common non-contagious disease in the world. The majority of adults, and 60-90 % of school children worldwide suffer from caries, and every year this leads to millions of lost school- and work-days. Among other things, we see that 95% of all 11-14 year olds in low income countries suffer from untreated dental issues.

An ignored global health issue

In the West we are used to easy access to professional dental care. With our school dental programmes we take prevention of dental disease for granted, and a trip to the dentist is often treated as a tiresome chore.

Meanwhile, in many developing countries, the reality is very different. The majority of the population in these countries must accept tooth ache as a fact of life, or seek help from self-taught ‘street dentists’, who often treat patients under primitive and hazardous conditions, which may lead to life-threatening infections.

DID YOU KNOW…

.. that caries is the #1 most common non-communicable disease in the world?

.. that more people in the world own a phone than a toothbrush?

.. that poor dental health is recognised by the WHO as a public health problem on the same level as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease?

.. that FDI – World Dental Federation estimates toothache to be the #1 cause of school absences in several developing countries?

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Dental health in developing countries worsens; the issues demand sustainable solutions

When high-income countries have experienced dramatic improvements in oral health in the recent decades, it is mostly due to successful preventive programmes.

Meanwhile, in middle- and low-income countries, this is not the case. They have not been able to benefit from the recent advances because of changing diets, the flow of sugar products from the West, etc. This means that caries and other dental diseases represent a rapidly increasing problem.

Simple access to knowledge of disease prevention, as well as provision of clean drinking water and fluoride toothpaste will, in most developing countries, be enough to ensure an improvement in oral health and quality of life.

The fact that in many cases politicians and health authorities in developing countries are unaware of the extent of the consequences of oral disease, is a main part of the problem. Therefore, they do not prioritise treatment and prevention programmes in their health policies. Others simply think that dental care is too expensive for their health care systems, and this sector often receives no funding whatsoever.

We know that oral disease represents a far greater threat, to developing countries in particular, than many realise.

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The mouth is not an isolated organ – dental disease affects more than just the mouth

Disease of the mouth can lead to illness in the rest of the body.

Research shows that untreated dental disease greatly affect children and young people’s physical and mental development, as it can result in malnutrition, stunted growth, poor learning ability, and concentration problems.

The FDI – World Dental Federation estimates toothache to be the most common reason for school absence in many developing countries.

However, long-term prevention demands a long-term and focused effort with access to preventive programmes and professional treatment. Unfortunately, this is rarely an option for the one billion people in the world living on less than one dollar a day.

More than 90% of the world's population develop a dental disease during their lifetime

95% of all 11-14-year-olds in low-income countries suffer from untreated dental issues