NYU Event Spotlights Global Need for Oral Health Policy

Dentistry Today
©Sorel: Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau


©Sorel: Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau

Accelerating global progress in oral health was the focus of an event hosted by the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry and its World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center, together with the NYU College of Global Public Health, on Friday, September 28, after the UN’s Third High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) on September 27.

Oral diseases affect half of the world’s population, yet they are rarely included in NCD prevention efforts, according to the organizers of the event, which promoted the integration of oral health in all efforts to prevent and control NCDs.

“Good oral health is a crucial element of overall health and, as such, part of the human right to health,” said Svetlana Axelrod, the WHO assistant director for noncommunicable diseases and mental health during her keynote address at the event.

To ensure that oral health is no longer neglected on the global health agenda, Axelrod called upon UN member states, the oral health community, and other stakeholders to strengthen their commitment to address oral health as a priority. This includes integrating oral disease prevention with the prevention of NCDs by addressing common risk factors. 

Axelrod also encouraged companies to mobilize resources to enhance collaborations and partnerships to implement cost-effective oral health interventions. Finally, she urged countries “to include essential oral healthcare services as part of universal health coverage initiatives to ensure that no one is left behind.” 

“There is no other disease on the planet as common as untreated tooth decay. Yet the United Nations Third High-Level Meeting on NCDs failed to recognize oral diseases. Thus, the side event was even more important to raise their importance in the noncommunicable disease context,” said event moderator and convener Habib Benzian, adjunct professor at NYU’s Colleges of Dentistry and Global Public Health and associate director of global health and policy for NYU Dentistry’s WHO Collaborating Center. 

During the event, Richard Watt of University College London highlighted the massive global disease burden and the need to include oral health in upstream policy measures. Stefan Listl of Radbound University emphasized that prevention is possible and cost-effective, warning that inaction will be costly for both health systems and patients alike.  

Paula Moynihan of Newcastle University and director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Nutrition and Oral Health discussed how the relationship between tooth decay and sugar intake informed the WHO guidelines for recommended levels of sugar intake. Francesco Branca, WHO director of nutrition for health and development, noted that nutrition and sugar intake are major common risk factors for NCDs and oral health that require joint policy responses. 

Richard Niederman, chair of the Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion at the NYU College of Dentistry and director of the WHO Collaborating Center, made a case for early and low-cost investments in prevention to address the global epidemic of tooth decay and affirmed the WHO Collaborating Center’s commitment to improving oral health worldwide.

“Next year’s UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage will provide another opportunity to join forces and to make essential oral healthcare available and affordable for everyone,” said Niederman.

The event concluded with a panel discussion involving different stakeholders exploring what the government, professionals, corporations, civil society, academia, and research can contribute to end the global neglect of oral health. They agreed on the importance of collaboration between sectors and discussed pathways to jointly and effectively accelerate tangible global and local action on oral health. 

The side event was cosponsored by the Minister of Health of the Kingdom of Morocco, Anass Doukkali, and Isaie Medah, director general of public health in Burkina Faso. They shared their countries’ respective work on NCDs and oral health and pledged increased attention to the growing burden of oral diseases. Colgate-Palmolive and Henry Schein also provided support.

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