Oral Health Gets the Spotlight During UN General Assembly

UN Photo/Cia Pak

Dentistry Today
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UN Photo/Cia Pak

The eyes of the world are on the United Nations General Assembly in New York City this week, and the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry is getting involved.

Along with the NYU College of Global Public Health, the school’s World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center will host an event on accelerating global progress in addressing oral health on Friday, September 28 as part of the worldwide movement to prevent noncommunicable chronic diseases, which are considered a growing threat. 

“Good oral health is a crucial element of overall health and, as such, part of the human right to health,” said Svetlana Axlerod, WHO assistant director general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health and keynote speaker.

“It is a striking fact that untreated tooth decay is among the most common noncommunicable diseases worldwide, and almost entirely preventable. The side event, organized by the two NYU colleges, is a welcome opportunity to promote full integration of oral health in strategic actions to address the global noncommunicable disease crisis,” Axlerod said.  

Other speakers will include Francesco Branca, director of the WHO Department of Nutrition for Health & Development; Anass Doukkali, minister of health of the Kingdom of Morocco; and Nicolas Meda, minister of health of Burkina Faso.

The event follows the United Nations 3rd High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases at the UN Headquarters on September 27, which will bring together heads of state, ministers of health, and other stakeholders to review global progress on the prevention and control of noncommunicable chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

More than 3.5 billion people suffer from oral diseases and related psychological, social, and economic consequences, yet oral health is rarely the focus of discussions of noncommunicable diseases. NYU’s event is designed to increase the visibility of the burden of oral diseases and outline challenges related to addressing them, particularly in low and middle income countries. 

“Cost-effective interventions to prevent oral diseases are available at the policy, health system, community, and personal levels, but are not universally implemented. Our event will explore evidence and pathways towards prevention of oral diseases in synergy with other noncommunicable diseases,” said Richard Niederman, chair of the Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion at the NYU College of Dentistry and director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Quality Improvement, Evidence-Based Dentistry. 

“While worldwide access to oral healthcare is improving, many people still lack access,” said Cheryl G. Healton, dean of the NYU College of Public Health. “In some parts of the world, notably in sub-Saharan Africa, the ratio of dentist to patient population is exceedingly low—1 to 150,000, according to WHO—making universal access essentially impossible and prevention even more important.”

The event is endorsed by the governments of Burkina Faso and Morocco, whose work in noncommunicable diseases and oral health will be featured. Colgate and Henry Schein have provided corporate support.

“The event will send a strong signal to the global health community that oral diseases are major public health challenges that can no longer be ignored,” said Habib Benzian, adjunct professor at NYU’s Colleges of Dentistry and Global Public Health and associate director of global health and policy for the WHO Collaborating Center.

“The Sustainable Development Goals call for universal healthcare, and that must include access to basic oral healthcare and prevention for everyone,” said Benzian.

The event, which is free and open to the public with registration, will be held from 1 to 7 pm at the NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, 15 East 84th St, New York City.

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