Billions of people across the globe are suffering from major untreated dental problems, according to a new report led by Professor Wagner Marcenes of Queen Mary, University of London, published in the Journal of Dental Research.
Professor Marcenes of the Institute of Dentistry at Queen Mary led an international research team investigating oral health as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2010 study.
The report shows that oral conditions affect as many as 3.9bn people worldwide - over half the total population. Untreated tooth decay or cavities in permanent teeth - also known as dental caries - was the most common of all 291 major diseases and injuries assessed by the GBD 2010 study, affecting 35 per cent of the world population.
"There are close to 4bn people in the world who suffer from untreated oral health conditions that cause toothache and prevent them from eating and possibly sleeping properly, which is a disability," comments Professor Marcenes. "This total does not even include small cavities or mild gum diseases, so we are facing serious problems in the population's oral health."
The GBD 2010 estimated that the disability associated with severe tooth loss was between those reported for moderate heart failure and moderate consequences of stroke.
Oral conditions accounted for an average health loss of 224 years per 100,000 people (years lived with disability or YLDs) - more than 25 out of 28 categories of cancer assessed in the GBD 2010 study.
The study found that the global burden of oral conditions is shifting from severe tooth loss towards severe periodontitis and untreated caries. It found that the global burden of oral diseases increased 20 per cent between 1990 and 2010, while a reduction of 0.5 per cent was observed for all conditions together. This increase was mainly due to population growth and ageing.
Professor Marcenes interprets this observed shift: "Tooth loss is often the final result when preventive or conservative treatments for tooth decay or gum disease fail or are unavailable. It is likely that current dental services are coping better to prevent tooth loss than in the past but major efforts are needed to prevent the occurrence and development of gum diseases and tooth decay. Ironically the longer a person keeps their teeth the greater the pressure on services to treat them."
The largest increases in the burden of oral conditions were in Eastern (52 per cent), Central (51 per cent) and Sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania (48 per cent).
The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study commenced in the spring of 2007 and was a major effort involving nearly 500 scientists carrying out a complete systematic assessment of global data on all diseases and injuries.
Professor Marcenes comments: "Our findings are set to shake up the setting of health priorities around the world, providing an unparalleled amount of up-to-date, comparable data on the diseases, risk factors, disabilities, and injuries facing populations.
"The findings of the GBD 2010 study highlighted that an urgent organized social response to oral health problems is needed. This must deal with a wide array of health care and public health priorities for action."
The new report Global Burden of Oral Conditions 1990-2010: A Systematic Analysis was led by Professor Marcenes, with colleagues at the University of Washington, Seattle, and the University of Queensland, Australia.