The Philippines is cited in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet.
It is mentioned as an example of dire oral health problems and, at the same time, a country that is doing something about the issue.
That’s because more than nine out of 10 of 12-year-old Filipino children have tooth decay or cavities.
The same is true for seven in 10 children in India, one in three among teenagers in Tanzania and nearly one in every three Brazilians.
The alarming numbers appeared in a two-part series in the July issue of The Lancet.
To help turn the tide, the Philippines is “bringing education directly to the schools,” wrote Dr. Habib Benzian, one of the authors in the series and associate director of Global Health and Policy at New York University’s College of Dentistry.
“It’s a mandatory program where every day, all the children go out into the courtyards to brush their teeth and wash their hands.”
The Lancet series was written by 13 academic and clinical researchers from 10 countries led by the University College London, United Kingdom.
The idea was to present to the public why oral health issues continue to persist in the last 30 years when there have been significant scientific advancements in oral health care.
While the consumption of sugar, tobacco and alcohol are to blame for oral health issues, the series of articles focused on sugar.
“Basically, without sugar, you won’t develop decay,” wrote Dr. Robert Weyant, a dental public health expert at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the authors of The Lancet articles.
And there lies the heart of the matter. In the series of articles, he and dental and public health experts called for ways to prevent oral health issues from becoming pervasive.
Cavities are increasing especially in poor and middle-income countries because sweetened food and drinks are getting more and more popular, the articles observed.
Dr. Benzian observed that people in these countries are in a “nutrition transition” that has been observed worldwide.
“Low-income countries usually have traditional diets, more plant and meat-based foods, less sugar and processed foods,” said Dr. Benzian, explaining that as people become more affluent changes occurs in the foods that they eat.
In many ways, it’s a matter of convenience. Fast foods are, well, fast. And they are also affordable. But they are high in fat, are fried and are sweet.
Dr. Weyant pointed to initiative to curb tobacco smoking and how since 2003 a treaty encouraged by the World Health Organization demanded reduction strategies in response to the increase of tobacco use worldwide.
The strategies now include tobacco tax increases, as in the Philippines, to discourage cigarette smoking.
The model “needs to be adapted for sugar,” Dr. Weyant said, noting that there is “no united global movement against sugar.”/WDJ