The annual World Oral Health Day comes up again this Friday.
If like me, you’re not a dentist, your response may well be ‘so what?’ It’s not an unexpected one given the level of other disease around the world. So why is Oral Health important?
What I’ve observed over the past 12 years I’ve been in this field, is that the main reason oral health and access to dentistry isn’t seen as important is because we take it for granted.
Let’s face it, sugar consumption in the past 30 years has rocketed in the UK, and yet the level of dental disease hasn’t. Caries rates in children seem to be coming down (although there are still far too many kids needing extractions). On the whole, people understand that they need to brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss, visit the dentist regularly, and cut back on sugar. Whether they choose to do it is another matter.
And so we’ve got very comfortable in the UK with a situation where our oral health is pretty good, and if we do have a problem, we’ve got somewhere we can go to get prompt help.
However, we’re in the minority – by a long way.
There are still more than 70% of the world living without the chance of any kind of help when they have a dental problem. These people, mostly living in the rural areas of developing countries, have little understanding of oral health care, access to toothpaste or even that sugar is bad for your teeth.
We’ve shared it before, but I keep coming back to this boy – Petro. You can read his story here.
For me he sums up why Oral Health is important – because without education, understanding, prevention, and crucially in this case, ready access to treatment, life becomes miserable and impossible for billions of people every year.
And that’s why World Oral Health Day is important. For those of us fortunate to have the huge privilege of understanding how to care for our mouths, and ready access to pain relief – we should be celebrating the dental profession and the good oral health we enjoy.
At the same time, 20th March gives us an opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of those for whom even access to dental pain relief is impossible.
Giving children like Petro and their families a way out of pain by training their local Health Worker in emergency dentistry is our priority. It’s great that the training we provide gives us the platform to educate communities about how to avoid problems as well. Slowly but surely, together with our fantastic volunteers (who will train the 350th Health Worker this week), we’re bringing the very fundamentals of what we take for granted in the UK to more and more communities.
Mark Topley, CEO @Mark_Topley