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New Study Says Increased Oral Health Investment Helps Overall Health and the Economy

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White paper says a growing oral health crisis is impacting billions of people and straining health systems and economies worldwide.

New Study Says Increased Oral Health Investment Helps Overall Health and the Economy | Image Credit: © World Economic Forum

New Study Says Increased Oral Health Investment Helps Overall Health and the Economy | Image Credit: © World Economic Forum

In news that is not much of a surprise to the industry, investing in oral health pays off in both the form of improved overall health outcomes and economic growth, according to a new World Economic Forum report released last week.

The Economic Rationale for a Global Commitment to Invest in Oral Health – published in collaboration with the American Dental Association, Colgate-Palmolive Company and Henry Schein, Inc. – was released on May 23 ahead of the World Health Assembly 2024. The study illustrates how a lack of investment in oral health globally has created a significant health crisis and placed an economic burden on many governments, businesses and individuals.

Read the full report here.

Almost half of the world’s population is impacted by oral diseases, with the number of cases growing faster than the population worldwide, according to the report. With plenty of research on the oral-systemic link, we know those who suffer from oral diseases are at higher risk of other severe illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, respiratory diseases, and more.

“The evidence is overwhelmingly clear: an investment in oral health is an investment towards a productive workforce and a healthy society overall,” Shyam Bishen, Head, World Economic Forum Centre for Health and Healthcare, says in a press release. “Immediate action is needed from all sectors to address the growing burden of oral diseases.”

According to the World Health Organization, oral diseases affect some 3.5 billion people annually and they contribute to a global economic burden of $710 billion in treatment costs and productivity losses. Vulnerable populations globally with unmet needs for oral care are disproportionately paying the substantial economic penalty associated with these access to care limitations.

The report calls for greater investments in oral health, with a united public-private collaboration. The white paper stresses that it would also boost overall health outcomes. In particular, better oral health has been associated with improved outcomes for people suffering from several serious illnesses, as well as with dementia, arthritis, and for pregnant women.

Improving oral health equity globally would also help advance the health-related Sustainable Development Goals, the World Economic Forum states.

While stressing the importance of a global commitment to invest in oral health, the report explores the role of various sectors in improving oral health. It outlines key measures each sector can take to improve oral health, such as improving health insurance programs and benefits around oral health. Mentioned in the report is the need for governments to integrate oral health within public health insurance programs and benefits packages as part of universal health coverage policies; for businesses to expand coverage for oral healthcare services in employer-provided health insurance programs; multilateral organizations to include oral health in policy dialogues for strengthening health systems; and civil society organizations to invest in oral health activities as part of philanthropic support for in-country, health-systems strengthening.

Recognizing the obstacles, the World Economic Forum launched the Oral Health Affinity Group (OHAG) in 2023 under its Global Health Equity Network, a group of more than 50 companies committed to advancing health equity to create stronger and more productive societies. OHAG members and collaborators are leaders from sectors and industries working to highlight the impact of poor oral health on health outcomes and the global economy. The group recommends steps that governments and private sector companies can take to advance global oral health. Following the report findings, OHAG plans to work with partners to accelerate public-private partnerships and investment designed to improve oral health globally.

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