The global burden of oral disease is a significant public health issue, affecting nearly half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people. Despite being largely preventable, many continue to suffer from oral health conditions due to barriers to quality oral healthcare, including accessibility and affordability, particularly for people living in middle- and low-income countries and rural areas. Unfortunately, treatment for oral diseases is usually not included in universal health coverage (UHC), further complicating access to care.
Oral diseases share many risk factors, such as sugar, tobacco, and alcohol consumption, with common noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Therefore, it is essential that oral diseases are included in NCD and UHC packages worldwide. FDI and other strategic partners such as the World Health Organization and the NCD Alliance are advocating for this integration, especially in the lead up to the Second United Nations High-Level Meeting on UHC coming up in September 2023.
Oral health is a basic right: Thailand’s commitment to providing accessible oral healthcare
Thailand is a prime example of a country that prioritizes oral health as a public health issue. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Oral Health Status Report, the prevalence of untreated caries of permanent teeth in people over five years old in Thailand is 27 per cent. However, Thailand has integrated oral health interventions as part of health benefit packages, which allows 80 per cent of its population to achieve coverage of the largest government health financing scheme. The benefit package includes routine and preventive oral healthcare, essential curative oral healthcare, and advanced curative oral healthcare.
Thailand has also implemented a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and developed a national oral health policy to ensure that its population can benefit of essential oral healthcare services for good oral health and well-being. Additionally, they have also developed a school programme that helps children, teachers, and parents protect oral health from an early age.
Oral health is a significant public health issue that affects millions of people worldwide. It is important to recognize the shared risk factors between oral diseases and NCDs and integrate oral health into NCD and UHC packages worldwide. The success of Thailand's oral health interventions demonstrates that it is possible to provide essential oral healthcare services for good oral health and well-being. Countries and policymakers worldwide should follow suit and prioritize oral health as a fundamental right, not a privilege.
Calling on decision-makers to integrate oral health in universal health coverage
FDI is a strong advocate for integrating oral health into universal coverage, as evidenced by its Vision 2030 report. The report urges the integration of oral health services into healthcare systems in all countries, making appropriate quality oral healthcare accessible, available, and affordable for everyone.
To further promote this integration, FDI partnered with the NCD Alliance to develop a briefing note for policymakers on WHY and HOW to integrate oral health into the NCD and UHC responses. The document encourages policymakers to incorporate oral health promotion and oral healthcare into NCD strategies and UHC benefit packages. It also provides five evidence-based messages on the associations between oral health and NCDs and highlights the role of oral healthcare within health systems. Policymakers can use this information to promote the inclusion of oral health into UHC packages.