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Home arrow Dentist Articles arrow 5 Billion People Have Cavities
5 Billion People Have Cavities

The figures are frightening: An estimated five billion people worldwide have dental caries or tooth decay and most children have signs of gingivitis (bleeding gums). Periodontal disease, the major cause of tooth loss, is found in five to 15 percent of most populations.

This grim scenario comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) which said that oral diseases have become a global health problem in both industrialized and developing countries, especially in poor communities. This silent epidemic causes much pain, suffering, impaired function, and reduced quality of life for millions of people.

"Worldwide, losing teeth is seen as a natural consequence of aging, but it is in fact preventable. There is a perception that dental caries is no longer a problem in the developed world, but it affects 60 to 90 percent of schoolchildren and the vast majority of adults. Dental caries is also the most prevalent oral disease in several Asian and Latin American countries," according to Dr. Catherine Le Gales-Camus, WHO assistant-director general for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health.

Oral diseases not only affect the people who have them but they are also a burden to the family, the community, and society as a whole. In children, untreated cavities may cause pain, dysfunction, absence from school, underweight, and poor appearance - problems that can greatly reduce a child's capacity to succeed in life. In adults, poor oral health can affect a person's ability to maintain a job, get a promotion and prevent that person from reaching his or her goals in life.

In the United States alone, dental problems account for 164 million hours of missed work, 51 million hours of missed school, and 41 million days of restricted activities. Although dental caries is largely preventable, tooth decay affects 95 percent of adults and one fourth of adults over age 60 have lost all of their teeth because of this. Experts attribute this to low awareness and limited access to good oral care.

To illustrate this point, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that Americans made about 500 million visits to Houston dentists, and an estimated $78 billion was spent on dental services in 2004. Yet over 100 million Americans still don't have access to fluoridated water to protect their teeth which is one simple way of preventing cavities and reducing dental costs.

"Oral health is integral to overall health. Ignoring oral health problems can lead to needless pain and suffering, complications that can devastate well-being, and financial and social costs that significantly diminish quality of life and burden society," according to US Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala

"Serious oral disorders may undermine self-image and self-esteem, discourage normal social interaction, and lead to chronic stress and depression as well as to incurring great financial cost. They also may interfere with vital functions such as breathing, eating, swallowing, and speaking. The burden of disease restricts activities in school, work, and home, and often significantly diminishes the quality of life," added US Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher.

Dentures are often used by people with missing teeth but can this device really help users? What other alternatives are available. Find out in the second part of this series. Don't miss it.

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Sharon Bell is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and published author. Many of her insightful articles can be found at the premiere online news magazine