The World Health Organization has released a new report highlighting the need to reduce alcohol consumption to prevent oral disease and promote better oral health for all.
The new Global Oral Health Status Report (2022) published by the WHO provides data about the burden of oral disease for 194 countries. It is the first-ever such report and provides unique insights into key areas and markers of oral health that are relevant for decision-makers.
Oral diseases are causing a serious global health burden and most people affected are living in low- or middle-income countries. The oral disease burden is growing.
Key facts about the oral disease burden in the world:
- Almost half of the world’s population (45% or 3.5 billion people) suffer from oral diseases.
- 3 out of every 4 affected people live in low- and middle-income countries.
- Global cases of oral diseases have increased by 1 billion over the last 30 years.
- The most common oral diseases are dental caries (tooth decay), severe gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancers.
- Untreated dental caries is the most common oral condition globally.
- It affects an estimated 2.5 billion people.
- Severe gum disease affects an estimated 1 billion people worldwide.
- About 380,000 new cases of oral cancers are diagnosed every year.
The report highlights the glaring inequalities in access to oral care and prevalence of oral diseases. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged people of the world are disproportionately affected by oral diseases:
- People with low incomes,
- People living with disabilities,
- Older people living alone or in care homes,
- People living in remote and rural communities, and
- People from minority groups carry a higher burden of oral diseases.
Oral health has long been neglected in global health, but many oral diseases can be prevented and treated with the cost-effective measures outlined in this report,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as per WHO News.Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, World Health Organization
Alcohol use main risk factor for oral disease
The main risk factors that cause other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) also lead to oral diseases. These are:
- High sugar intake.
- Tobacco use.
- Alcohol use.
In terms of the most common oral diseases, tobacco, alcohol, and areca nut (betel quid) use are leading risk factors for oral cancer; tobacco use is a leading risk factor for gum disease.
Prenatal alcohol and/or tobacco exposure are also risk factors for cleft lip and palate.
Therefore the burden of oral diseases can be reduced through public health interventions by addressing common risk factors, including policy solutions that facilitate the reduction or quitting of alcohol and tobacco use.
Commercial determinants/ corporate strategies fueling oral disease
The increased marketing of unhealthy products by addiction industries, including the alcohol industry, has led to an increase in the use of these products globally. This has led to a rapid increase in oral disease around the world but specifically in low and low-middle-income countries. As Movendi International has reported previously these countries are also a target for the alcohol industry to drive higher consumption for profit maximization.
The commercial determinants highlighted in the report include the strategies used by addiction industries. All of these strategies are used by the alcohol industry to increase alcohol consumption to maximize profits globally.
- Political and economic power and influence.
- Lobbying to influence policy.
- Corporate citizenship.
- Targeted and tailored marketing and promotion strategies.
- Influence on research agenda.
- Influences on social norms and local policies.
- Media influence to distract attention and cause confusion.
- Influence on consumers’ choices and behaviors.
Barriers and opportunities to improve global oral health
The report provides the following barriers to global oral health:
- Oral health care requires high out-of-pocket expenditures. This often leads to catastrophic costs and significant financial burden for families and communities.
- The provision of oral health services largely relies on highly specialized providers using expensive high-tech equipment and materials, and these services are not well integrated with primary health care models.
- Poor information and surveillance systems, combined with low priority for public oral health research are major bottlenecks to developing more effective oral health interventions and policies.
The report showcases many promising opportunities to improve the state of global oral health including:
- Adopting a public health approach by addressing common risk factors through promoting a well-balanced diet low in sugars, stopping the use of all forms of tobacco, reducing alcohol consumption, and improving access to effective and affordable fluoride toothpaste.
- Planning oral health services as part of national health and improving the integration of oral health services in primary health care as part of universal health coverage.
- Redefining oral health workforce models to respond to population needs and expanding competencies of non-dental healthcare workers to expand oral health service coverage; and
- Strengthening information systems by collecting and integrating oral health data into national health monitoring systems.
Placing people at the heart of oral health services is critical if we are to achieve the vision of universal health coverage for all individuals and communities by 2030,” said Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, WHO Director for Noncommunicable Diseases, as per WHO News.
This report acts as a starting point by providing baseline information to help countries monitor the progress of implementation, while also providing timely and relevant feedback to decision-makers at the national level. Together, we can change the current situation of oral health neglect.”Dr. Bente Mikkelsen, Director for Noncommunicable Diseases, World Health Organization
Movendi International has previously reported on the links between alcohol and oral disease. Alcohol use is a risk factor for tooth decay, which is the most common non-communicable disease worldwide. Many alcohol products contain high sugar amounts, such as wines and “Ready-to-drink mixes (RTDs) or alcopops. These and other alcohol products are bad for teeth because harmful bacteria thrive in sugar. Carbonated alcohol products such as seltzer are bad for teeth due to their acidity. Furthermore, alcohol use inhibits regular salivation which is necessary to protect teeth from decay.
The Australian Dental Association has warned in 2020 that oral cancers, tooth decay, and gum disease can increase due to increased alcohol consumption during COVID-19.
Alcohol use is linked to 26.4% of all lip and oral cavity cancer cases worldwide.
The Global Oral Health Status Report 2022
The Global Oral Health Status Report uses the latest available data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and global WHO surveys. The report is aimed at policymakers, practitioners, researchers, development agencies, and members of the private sector and civil society.
WHO response to the global oral health crisis
The World Health Assembly approved a Resolution on oral health in 2021 at the 74th World Health Assembly.
The Resolution recommended a shift from the traditional curative approach towards a preventive approach. The Resolution affirmed that oral health should be firmly embedded within the NCD agenda and that oral healthcare interventions should be included in universal health coverage programs.
In 2022, the 75th World Health Assembly adopted the global strategy on oral health with a vision of universal health coverage for oral health for all individuals and communities by 2030. A detailed action plan is under development to help countries translate the global strategy into practice. This includes a monitoring framework for tracking progress, with measurable targets to be achieved by 2030.
For further reading
Movendi International archive on Oral Health.
UN News: “Almost half of us worldwide are neglecting oral healthcare: WHO report“
WHO News: “WHO highlights oral health neglect affecting nearly half of the world’s population“
WHO Fact Sheets: “Oral health“
Prensa Latina: “WHO: Oral health neglect affecting nearly half of world´s population“