Only 38% of parents proactively limit the sugary food and beverages that their children consume to protect their teeth, according to a YouGov survey of 10 developed and developing countries commissioned by the FDI World Dental Federation. The survey asked parents with children under the age of 18 “which, if any, of the following have you EVER done to ensure your child(ren) has good oral health?”
Less than a third of parents in the United States limit their child’s sugar intake, while parents in the United Kingdom are the most proactive with just over half of them indicating they restrict sugar levels. Parents in the UK also were top ranked for taking their children at least once a year to the dentist for a checkup, whereas less than half of parents in the other nine countries did so.
“Oral disease is a big part of a largely preventable disease burden, and these survey results demonstrate that we’re just not doing enough to avoid oral health problems at an early age,” said Dr. Gerhard K. Seeberger, president of FDI, which is the founding organization of World Oral Health Day, scheduled this year for March 20. World Oral Health Day aims to raise global awareness of the prevention and control of oral diseases.
Oral disease shares common risk factors with other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) including tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, and unhealthy diets, especially those high in sugar. It also typifies the kind of health inequities that are so linked to the NCD burden.
“The oral health profession has largely existed as a separate specialty divorced from medicine and medicine’s education system, but the intense debate around sugar over the past few years only illustrates the fallacy of working in silos. It is simply unproductive to be discussing sugary drinks and their link to the obesity epidemic without factoring in the obvious impact they have on the oral health of children,” said Seeberger.
Oral health continues to be one of the most neglected areas of global health, FDI says, calling it a silent epidemic afflicting about 3.58 billion people even though it is largely preventable. Oral diseases such as dental caries, gum disease, and oral cancer are the most common forms of noncommunicable diseases and affect people throughout their lifetime, causing pain, discomfort, disfigurement, and even death, FDI adds.
The collective failure to prevent oral disease costs the world economy about $442 billion, FDI says, noting that much of the neglect is due to high treatment costs. Oral diseases are the fourth most expensive out-of-pocket diseases to treat, and, FDI says, political impetus to change has largely been absent partly because historically the mouth has been treated separately from the body in healthcare policy.
Parents from the United States ranked second to last at 32% when asked if they limited sugary food and drinks in their children’s diet. Around the world, 52% of parents in the UK led the survey, followed by Sweden at 44%, Australia at 41%, China at 41%, Morocco at 40%, France at 37%, Philippines at 36%, Egypt at 32%, and Argentina at 30%.
Also, 41% of parents in the United States took their child for a dental checkup at least once a year. The UK led here as well at 63%, followed by Argentina at 47%, France at 42%, Sweden at 41%, Australia at 37%, Philippines at 31%, China at 18%, Morocco at 12%, and Egypt at 11%.
This year, FDI says, World Oral Health Day will feature pledges to inspire the general public, policymakers, healthcare professionals, and other key stakeholders to “Unite for Mouth Health.”