Dental health is a topic that people often forget in discussions of global poverty as other health issues can overshadow it. However, oral health and poverty have a link. Maintaining proper dental health is essential for individuals to stay healthy and out of poverty. Listed below are four ways in which improving individuals’ oral health can help fight global poverty.
4 Connections Between Oral Health and Poverty
- There is a close link between poor oral health and malnutrition. This is largely because people who have inadequate nutrition may also have weaker teeth, which are then more prone to decay. The pain of tooth decay and inadequate chewing is often enough to keep many individuals from consuming an adequate amount of food. Individuals who have fewer than three functional molars have even more difficulty consuming food. These individuals have shown a 40 percent reduction in masticatory performance or the ability to chew.
- People with chronic dental pain struggle with productivity. As most anyone who has had a toothache can attest to, dental pain can affect one’s ability to focus. In addition to this, the FDI World Dental Federation claims that people miss millions of work or school days each year due to oral afflictions. Untreated dental pain prevents people from being able to learn and earn successfully. This is another way that oral health and poverty connect.
- Uncontrolled oral bacteria can cause larger health issues. Without regular oral hygiene measures like brushing and flossing, the mouth, and especially the gums, can build up bacteria that does not just cause tooth decay but is also harmful to the rest of the body. This bacteria can cause endocarditis and pneumonia, as well as pregnancy complications. In short, good oral hygiene can prevent other health conditions from occurring.
- Focusing on oral health requires habits that benefit overall wellness. The primary example of this is the reduction of tobacco use. Smoking and chewing tobacco have a number of negative side effects, including crippling tooth decay, gum disease and cancer. In addition to this, most experts estimate that smoking kills more than 8 million individuals annually across the globe. There are also economic consequences to smoking, as evidenced by the staggering economic damage that people can incur as a result of smoking. One can calculate the economic damage by adding up both medical costs and the loss of productivity that smoking causes. The World Bank estimates that this figure is more than $1.4 trillion annually. Everything said, maintaining good oral health can help individuals stay healthy and productive.
Efforts by NGOs to Improve Oral Health
Fortunately, many groups have already begun to respond to this pressing issue. Dental care-centered mission trips and humanitarian outreach programs have long been in effect. Now, other larger organizations are increasingly involving themselves in oral health. For example, the organization Shoulder to Shoulder conducted a 17-year-long effort to craft an oral health program that produced many benefits for the people of Honduras. The program helped many individuals improve their dental health and people considered it to be a great success. UNICEF implemented a similar program that focused on tooth-brushing in the Philippines. This program reached countless schoolchildren in the country.
All of the above reasons demonstrate why improving oral health is crucial for fighting poverty. All said, there is a lot of good work that NGOs are currently doing to help promote oral health education and practices. Oral health is essential to ensure individuals’ overall health as well as their financial security. It is important that the connection between oral health and poverty remains at the forefront of discussions surrounding global health care going forward.
– Molly Power