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WHO: Oral health is a key indicator of overall health, well-being, and quality of life

WHO: Oral health is a key indicator of overall health, well-being, and quality of life

Why is oral health so important for everyone? The mouth is the “starting point” of the body’s defense and immunity system. When oral health is compromised by disease or injury, general health is also affected, describes Dr. Benoit Varenne, Oral Health Programme Officer at the NCD Prevention Department of the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to WHO’s Global Oral Health Status Report published on 18 November 2022, almost half of the world’s population is affected by some type of oral disease. The most vulnerable and marginalized populations are particularly affected by poor oral health.

Dr. Benoit Varenne explains in an interview for WHO: Science in 5 that poor oral health can lead to a multitude of health challenges – in more severe cases even to disability and death. Oral diseases are linked to a range of risk factors – these include tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and unhealthy food and drinks.

– These risk factors are shared with other medical conditions or noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, or mental disorders, Dr. Benoit Varenne says.

The link between oral health and general health proven

Research indicates that there is a proven relationship between oral and general health. It is reported, for example, that diabetes is linked with the development and progression of periodontitis. Meanwhile, there is also a causal link between high consumption of sugars and diabetes, obesity, and dental caries, WHO recognizes.

Periodontitis, a chronic infection caused by bacteria, is a disease that affects as many as 70% of people in Western countries. Periodontitis is the sixth most common disease in the world that can also lead to other conditions such as cardiovascular diseases. Infections in the mouth are mainly caused by accumulated dental plaque, which can lead to tartar buildup if not removed properly.

According to Dr. Varenne, the biggest challenges in terms of improving global oral health are the cost and access to oral health care. In many countries, oral health care services are not accessible or not affordable for most people. Thus, implementing prevention measures such as in schools, communities, and workplaces is important.

Prevention is the best tool

So, how can we maintain and improve oral health? The key to good oral health is thorough oral home care. Prevention of oral diseases requires regular brushing and flossing. Using fluoride toothpaste is also important as it helps fight against dental caries.

Secondly, to help prevent dental caries and maintain general health, it is recommended to reduce sugar consumption in food and drink. Dr. Varenne reminds that water is the best drink every day at any time.

Koite Health is a Finnish health tech company whose Lumoral-innovation, which is based on dual-light therapy, has revolutionized Finnish preventive dental care. Lumoral is a teeth cleaning device that is used in addition to regular tooth brushing. The device is suitable for everyone but is especially beneficial for those with cavities or gingivitis. Lumoral has been scientifically developed, and its antibacterial effect is well established. Lumoral is a class II medical and CE-approved device.


WHO: Status of global oral health is “alarming” – Oral health neglect affects nearly half of the world’s population

WHO: Status of global oral health is “alarming” – Oral health neglect affects nearly half of the world’s population

A new Global Oral Health Status Report published on November 18, 2022 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 3 out of every 4 affected people living in low- and middle-income countries.

The WHO report also reveals that 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.

– 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 in a statement.

Rapid increase of oral diseases

The most common oral diseases are dental caries (tooth decay), severe gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancers.  Untreated dental caries is the single most common condition globally, affecting an estimated 2.5 billion people. Severe gum disease, or periodontitis, which is a major cause of total tooth loss, is estimated to affect 1 billion people worldwide.  Meanwhile, about 380 000 new cases of oral cancers are diagnosed every year.

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.

This pattern of inequalities is similar to other noncommunicable diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental disorders. 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.

Barriers to delivering oral health services

Only a small percentage of the global population is covered by essential oral health services, and those with the greatest need often have the least access to services. The key barriers to delivering access to oral health services for all include:

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.

Opportunities to improve global oral health

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 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 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, according to a statement.

– This report acts as a starting point by providing baseline information to help countries monitor progress of implementation, while also providing timely and relevant feedback to decision-makers at the national level, she added.


The WHO Global oral health status report reviews the most recent data on major oral diseases, risk factors, health system challenges and opportunities for reform. Read the report in full here.

As a separate online resource, WHO also provides the first-ever country oral health profiles for all 194 WHO Member States. For more information on oral health country profiles and related materials click here