Oral health

Policy basis

Oral health through health promoting schools
Dental caries is still a major oral health problem in most industrialized countries, while it appears to be less common and less severe in most African countries.

Current oral health situation at global level

Despite great achievements in oral health of populations globally, problems still remain in many communities all over the world - particularly among under-privileged groups in developed and developing countries. Dental caries and periodontal diseases have historically been considered the most important global oral health burdens. At present, the distribution and severity of oral diseases vary among different parts of the world and within the same country or region. The significant role of socio-behavioural and environmental factors in oral disease and health is evidenced in an extensive number of epidemiological surveys. Dental caries is still a major oral health problem in most industrialized countries, affecting 60-90% of schoolchildren and the vast majority of adults. It is also a most prevalent oral disease in several Asian and Latin-American countries, while it appears to be less common and less severe in most African countries.

Oral health is integral and essential to general health

Oral health means more than good teeth; it is integral to general health and essential for well-being. It implies being free of chronic oro-facial pain, oral and pharyngeal (throat) cancer, oral tissue lesions, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, and other diseases and disorders that affect the oral, dental and craniofacial tissues, collectively known as the craniofacial complex.

Oral health is a determinant factor for quality of life

The craniofacial complex allows us to speak, smile, kiss, touch, smell, taste, chew, swallow, and to cry out in pain. It provides protection against microbial infections and environmental threats. Oral diseases restrict activities in school, at work and at home causing millions of school and work hours to be lost each year the world over. Moreover, the psychosocial impact of these diseases often significantly diminishes quality of life.

Oral health - general health

The interrelationship between oral and general health is proven by evidence. Severe periodontal disease, for example, is associated with diabetes The strong correlation between several oral diseases and noncommunicable chronic diseases is primarily a result of the common risk factors. Many general disease conditions also have oral manifestations that increase the risk of oral disease which, in turn, is a risk factor for a number of general health conditions. This wider meaning of oral health does not diminish the relevance of the two globally leading oral afflictions - dental caries and periodontal diseases. Both can be effectively prevented and controlled through a combination of community, professional and individual action.

Proper oral health care reduces premature mortality

Early detection of disease is in most cases crucial to saving lives. A thorough oral examination can detect signs of nutritional deficiencies as well as a number of general diseases including microbial infections, immune disorders, injuries, and oral cancer. The craniofacial tissues also provide an understanding of organs and systems in less accessible parts of the body. For example, the salivary glands are a model of the exocrine glands, and an analysis of saliva can provide important clues to general health or disease.

Oral Health in WHO Headquarters

Dr Benoit Varenne
Oral Health Programme Officer

Dr Yuka Makino
Technical Officer

WHO Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (PND)
20 Avenue Appia
1211 Geneva 27
Telephone: +41 22 791 4426
E-mail: hq_pnd@who.int