Oral health continues to be ignored worldwide.
This is the message of a conference that called for the inclusion of dental care in universal health coverage, defined by the United Nations (UN) as the ability for all people and communities to receive the quality health services they need without financial hardship.
The conference, organized by the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry’s World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Quality-improvement, Evidence-based Dentistry, together with The Lancet, the highly respected British medical journal, was held at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly held in New York City in the last week of September.
That’s when the UN General Assembly hosted the first high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC). The NYU parallel conference advocated for the inclusion of oral health in the conversation on UHC.
Last July, The Lancet published a Series on Oral Health.
“The Lancet Series on Oral Health is a milestone for the global oral health community,” said Dr. Richard Niederman, chair of the Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion at the NYU College of Dentistry.
“By calling attention to oral health, The Lancet has created visibility and urgency for a long-neglected crisis in global public health,” said Dr. Niederman who is also the Director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Quality-improvement, Evidence-based Dentistry, the only WHO Collaborating Center on oral health in the Americas.
The parallel conference, he said, sends a strong message to the global health community that oral health care should no longer be isolated from mainstream health care and the need for fundamental change to integrate the two.
“The global momentum towards universal health coverage provides a unique opportunity for these reforms,” said Dr. Habib Benzian, Research Professor at NYU’s Colleges of Dentistry and Global Public Health and Associate Director of Global Health and Policy for the WHO Collaborating Center.
“Countries like Thailand, France, Brazil have made bold efforts to integrate dental care into universal health care, demonstrating that major reforms are possible and can benefit oral health.”
“Oral diseases affect 3.5 billion people worldwide, yet despite presenting such a major public health burden, oral health has been largely ignored by the global health community,” said Dr. Jocalyn Clark, The Lancet executive editor.
“We know that the burden of oral disease is set to grow, as more people are exposed to the underlying risk factors, including sugar, tobacco and alcohol. It’s time now for the dental care and global health communities to come together and take action to radically reform oral health care, tighten regulation of the sugar industry, and provide greater transparency on conflict of interests in dental research.”
The Sept. 22 NYU and The Lancet side event – “Leaving No One Behind: Integrating Universal Health Coverage and Essential Oral Health Care for All” – was cosponsored by the governments of Egypt, Japan and Thailand, as well as the World Economic Forum with support from the Henry Schein Cares Foundation./WDJ