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Oral Disease Plagues Nearly Half of Earth’s Population

The WHO’s first-ever Global Oral Health Status Report paints a comprehensive picture of how oral disease impacts 194 countries, providing valuable statistical insights for decision-makers.

According to a groundbreaking report by the World Health Organization (WHO), as many as 3.5 billion people across the globe experience oral disease.1 Dental caries, periodontal diseases, edentulism, and oral cancer top the list of the most common oral health problems affecting nearly half of the world’s population, with low- and middle-income countries bearing the brunt of the problem.

Cited as the most common type of oral disease, untreated caries alone affects approximately 2.5 billion people. Not far behind are periodontal diseases, from which an estimated 1 billion people across the globe suffer, and which often results in tooth loss. In addition, around 380,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed annually.

To make matters worse, the problem is growing. To put things into perspective, the organization says that over the past 30 years, oral diseases across the globe have increased by 1 billion.


In its report, the WHO notes that just a small percentage of the global population is covered by essential health services and blames the rise of oral disease on what it cites as “glaring inequalities” implicated in issues of accessibility to preventive care and treatment.

The agency observes that most impacted are those in low-income brackets, those with disabilities, older adults, minorities, and people living in remote and rural communities. But barriers to care doesn’t simply refer to lack of transportation. The problem is broad in scope.

The WHO notes that key barriers include high out-of-pocket costs, which can lead to significant financial burdens for families and communities. Lack of access to highly specialized providers and expensive high-tech equipment and materials is another stumbling block for at-risk communities.

Further, the fact that oral health services are not well integrated into primary health care models is problematic. The organization also reports that poor information, surveillance systems and low priority for public oral health research are hampering the delivery of more effective interventions and policies.


To remedy this scenario, the WHO recommends that countries adopt a public health approach by addressing common risk factors. Important steps would include promoting a well-balanced diet low in sugars, ceasing tobacco use, reducing alcohol consumption, and improving access to effective and affordable fluoride toothpaste.

The agency also advocates for the inclusion of oral health services into national health plans and improving integration of such services into primary healthcare as part of universal health coverage.

Other promising measures countries can take to improve oral health access for their citizens include redefining oral health workforce models and expanding competencies of nondental healthcare workers. Strengthening information systems could be accomplished by collecting and integrating oral health data into national health monitoring systems. Such measures can go a long way toward taking a bite out of oral disease.


  1. World Health Organization. WHO highlights oral health neglect affecting nearly half of the world’s population.
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