Tooth Decay A Problem For Billions
May 30, 2013

Tooth Decay Still A Major Problem For Billions Around The World

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

As anyone who has had one will admit, a toothache is not something pleasant, and billions of people around the world could be at risk as a result of untreated dental problems. The health concerns related to tooth decay could also be worse than oral discomfort.

A new report led by Professor Wagner Marcenes of the Institute of Dentistry at Queen Mary shows that oral conditions may affect as many as 3.9 billion people worldwide — more than half the total global population. Together with an international research team investing oral health as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2010 study, Marcenes found that untreated tooth decay or cavities in permanent teeth — also known as dental caries — were the most common of all 291 major diseases and injuries included in the study.

The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study began in the spring of 2007. It included nearly 500 scientists carrying out a complete systematic assessment of global data on all diseases and injuries. Tooth decay alone, the report noted, affects some 35 percent of the world´s population.

The findings of the report were published in the Journal of Dental Research (JDR), a peer-reviewed scientific journal dedicated to the dissemination of new knowledge and information on all sciences relevant to dentistry. The Global Burden of Oral Conditions 1990-2010: A Systematic Analysis was led by Professor Marcenes, along with colleagues at the University of Washington and the University of Queensland in Australia.

The GBD 2010 study noted that oral conditions accounted for an average health loss of 224 years per 100,000 people, and the study further estimated that disability associated with severe tooth loss was between those reported for moderate heart failure or stroke.

“There are close to four billion people in the world who suffer from untreated oral health conditions that cause toothache and prevent them from eating and possibly sleeping properly, which is a disability,” noted Professor Marcenes in a statement. “This total does not even include small cavities or mild gum diseases, so we are facing serious problems in the population's oral health.”

The global burden of oral disease is shifting from severe tooth loss towards severe periodontitis and untreated caries the study found. The global burden of oral diseases increased 20 percent between 1990 and 2010, while a reduction of 0.5 percent was observed for all conditions together. The study´s authors contend that this increase can likely be attributed to an aging population.

“Tooth loss is often the final result when preventive or conservative treatments for tooth decay or gum disease fail or are unavailable,” Marcenes added. “It is likely that current dental services are coping better to prevent tooth loss than in the past but major efforts are needed to prevent the occurrence and development of gum diseases and tooth decay. Ironically, the longer a person keeps their teeth the greater the pressure on services to treat them.”

The developing world is where tooth decay continues to be a major problem. The study noted that the largest increases in the burden of oral conditions were in Eastern (52 percent), Central (51 per cent) and Sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania (48 per cent).

“Our findings are set to shake up the setting of health priorities around the world, providing an unparalleled amount of up-to-date, comparable data on the diseases, risk factors, disabilities, and injuries facing populations,” he noted. “The findings of the GBD 2010 study highlighted that an urgent organized social response to oral health problems is needed. This must deal with a wide array of health care and public health priorities for action.”