Oral health means being free of chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral sores, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay and tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that affect the mouth and oral cavity.
Oral diseases share common risk factors with the four leading chronic diseases -- cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes -- including unhealthy diet, tobacco use, and harmful alcohol use. Poor oral hygiene is also a risk factor.
The burden of oral diseases and other chronic diseases can be decreased simultaneously by addressing common risk factors such as tobacco use and unhealthy diet:
Dental cavities can be prevented by a low level of fluoride constantly maintained in the oral cavity. Fluoride can be obtained from fluoridated drinking water, salt, milk, mouth rinse or toothpaste, as well as from professionally-applied fluorides. Long-term exposure to an optimal level of fluoride results in fewer cavities in both children and adults.
By using these prevention strategies, the high cost of dental treatments can be avoided.
The public health solutions for oral diseases are most effective when they are integrated with other chronic diseases and with national public health programmes. The activities of the World Health Organization (WHO) span advocacy, prevention and treatment:
WHO's oral health activities are integrated into the overall WHO chronic disease prevention and control framework of the Department of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion. The strategic objectives of the Department are to raise awareness about the global epidemic of chronic diseases; create healthy environments, especially for poor and disadvantaged populations; slow and reverse trends in common chronic disease risk factors such as unhealthy diet and physical inactivity; and prevent premature deaths and avoidable disability due to major chronic diseases.