A new decade is here, and with it comes a new opportunity to appraise what we’ve achieved in oral care so far and to plan for where we’re going. As the world changes and our oral health habits continue to change with it, the industry must stay nimble to respond with proactive solutions and help those who need it most.
Some 2.4 billion people are currently suffering from untreated dental caries in permanent teeth.This worrying figure sets the scene for the urgent action we need to take if we want to turn a corner globally and also address disparities in oral health between different socio-economic groups.
In 2003, a working group formed of the World Health Organization (WHO), FDI World Dental Federation, and International Association for Dental Research (IADR) published “Global Goals for Oral Health 2020,” which aimed to provide a framework for policymakers globally to encourage action locally.
Of the 10 goals that were established, targeting 16 oral health outcomes, one that resonated strongly with me was “to promote sustainable, priority-driven policies and programs in oral health systems that have been derived from systematic reviews of best practices.”
We have already made a positive start in achieving this goal by raising awareness of the benefits of oral health policies and programs, as well as high-quality research. But as the dental community, we must ensure we continue to pursue the objectives outlined by the report to counteract the oral health challenges that our changing world will face over the next decade and beyond.
A Rising Rate of Change
We cannot ignore the importance that oral health has on our overall well-being. Tooth loss has been associated with loss of enjoyment of food and impaired social functioning due to poor oral hygiene, such as avoiding laughingorsmiling,or a reduced willingness to meet new people because of a poor perceived appearance of teeth. Dental diseases increasingly have a detrimental effect on quality of life in both childhood and older age. In short, we can no longer look at our teeth in isolation.
We also need to bear in mind the things we eat and how we do so. Of course, dental professionals have always done this. Butas diets and eating habits change, so must our approaches. For example, we know that eating frequency has increased, with many people exhibiting grazing patterns of eating and snacking five to seventimes a day. It is important, therefore, that the dental industry evolves its approach to keep up with the lives and lifestyles of our patients.
There are encouraging signs of evolution, with new technologies and innovations modernizing the field. We’re seeing apps, “smart” toothbrushes, and direct-to-consumer dental ventures for orthodontics and personal care subscription boxes gaining popularity. These developments all indicate the relevance of good oral care in the minds of the general public, as they look beyond core dental hygiene interventions like brushing and flossing.
Reviewing the Research
These innovations are breathing new life into the industry. But there needs to be wider, structural reform if we want to enact the biggest changes and ensure that lower-income countries in particular aren’t left behind. This takes me back to the point I mentioned from the Global Goals for Oral Health 2020.
The issue of high-quality systematic reviews sits at the top of my list of priorities. The increasing use of systematic reviews and, where applicable, meta-analyses allows public health agencies, governments, and policymakers to determine best practices related to the effectiveness of treatments or preventive measures so any subsequent changes to infrastructure or guidelines stand on firm, evidence-based ground.
Recent systematic reviews have illustratedhow our understanding of oral health continues to develop. Published toward the end of 2019 with support from the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Program, a King’s College London study compared the levels of dental caries of both adults and children who chew sugar-free gum and those who do not or who use alternatives such as lozenges, candies, rinses, tablets, and non-chewing controls.
The study found evidence that chewing sugar-free gum may reduce the further development of dental caries, comparing favorably to other more traditional interventions, such as oral health education and supervised tooth brushing.
Although the role of sugar-free gum in oral health has been acknowledged in past research, this latest review reinforces the growing body of evidence highlighting an important role for chewing sugar-free gum in improving both oral and overall health, particularly when people are onthego and between meals.
When we look at the need for oral care improvement worldwide and see these signs of innovation and new solutions evolving to better fit within our lifestyles, they only reinforce the wider need for policymakersto understand the importance of oral care, recognise the potential of different, evidence-based solutions, and work to implement or revise guidelines where necessary to improve oral health and therefore public health around the world.
Improving the Future Together
Despite all the exciting changes we’ve seen since the WHO global goals were first published and the new developments on the horizon for 2020 and beyond, there is no one solution to improving oral health around the world. We still need to try to reach and achieve myriad objectives, and we can only do so by raising awareness of what can be done and by working together to do it.
Things are evolving all the time. Our society, our eating habits, and our approaches to oral hygiene mean that we can only solve the challenges and disparities we face, particularly in lower-income populations, through collaboration on the latest innovations and evidence-based policies.
The dental industry must continue to embrace new solutions and communicate with policymakers on how best to utilize them so we can achieve the goals outlined by the WHO and make the next decade even more productive than the last in improving oral care.
Dr. Dodds is senior principal and lead oral health scientist at Mars Wrigley Confectionery in Chicago. He works with the Wrigley Oral Health Program (WOHP), which provides education and resources to the dental community to help improve oral care around the world. He joined Wrigley in 2002 after 15 years in academic dentistry and is adjunct faculty at the UIC College of Dentistry, Chicago. He holds a dental degree from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in dental science from the University of Liverpool, and he has published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, and articles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at linkedin.com/in/michael-dodds-7655203/.
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