The need to make oral diseases a global health priority

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Oral health has been isolated from traditional healthcare and health policy for too long, despite the major global public health burden of oral diseases, according to a Series on oral health, published recently in The Lancet.

Professor Marco Peres, from Menzies Health Institute Queensland and Griffith University’s School of Dentistry and Oral Health, is the only Australian academic in the international team of authors of The Lancet Series.

“In Australia, dental caries affects 34 per cent of five- and six-year-old children and 46.2 per cent of nine- and 10-year-olds,” Professor Peres said.

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“In older children with permanent dentition the prevalence is 9.2 per cent among six- to eight-year-olds and nearly 40 per cent in 12- to 14-year-olds.”

Failure of the global health community to prioritise the global burden of oral health has led to calls from The Lancet Series authors for the radical reform of dental care, tightened regulation of the sugar industry, and greater transparency around conflict of interests in dental research. 

Oral diseases, including tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancers, affect almost half of the global population, with untreated dental decay the most common health condition worldwide. Lip and oral cavity cancers are among the top 15 most common cancers in the world.

In addition to lower quality of life, oral diseases have a major economic impact on both individuals and the wider health care system. In Australia, recurrent expenditure on dental services cost $9.904 billion in 2015-16.

“Australasia has the second-highest per capita expenditure on dental care and productivity losses due to dental problems in the world,’’ Professor Peres said.

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