SWITZERLAND — A new Global Oral Health Status Report by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that almost half of the world’s population (45% or 3.5 billion people) suffer from oral diseases, with 75% of those affected people living in low- and middle-income countries.

Global cases of oral diseases have increased by 1 billion over the last 30 years — a clear indication that many people do not have access to prevention and treatment of oral diseases, said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, in a WHO news release.

The most common oral illnesses are tooth decay, severe gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancers, the United Nations agency said.

Severe gum disease ̶ a major cause of total tooth loss ̶ is estimated to affect 1 billion people worldwide. About 380 000 new cases of oral cancers are diagnosed every year, it said.

Untreated dental caries is the single most common condition globally, affecting an estimated 2.5 billion people.

The report underscores the glaring inequalities in access to oral health services, with a huge burden of oral diseases and conditions affecting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.

People on low incomes, people living with disabilities, older people living alone or in care homes, those living in remote and rural communities, and people from minority groups carry a higher burden of oral diseases.

Risk factors common to noncommunicable diseases such as high sugar intake, all forms of tobacco use, and harmful use of alcohol all contribute to the global oral health crisis.

WHO cited large out-of-pocket expenditure and the unavailability of highly specialized dental equipment in primary healthcare facilities as two of the reasons for the high prevalence of oral diseases, especially in poor countries.

Oral health has long been neglected in global health, but many oral diseases can be prevented,” said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The report, which underscores that oral health continues to be one of the WHO’s priorities, reviews the most recent data on major oral diseases, risk factors, health system challenges, and opportunities for reform.

Furthermore, the report is intended to serve as a reference for policymakers and a wide range of stakeholders to guide advocacy towards better prioritization of oral health globally, regionally, and nationally.

The agency suggested countries include equitable oral health services as part of their national planning and integrate oral health services into their primary health care models, while also improving access to affordable fluoride toothpaste, among other measures.

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