Key steps to a cavity-free world

DHAA Image of young asian boy at dentist having a check up

A new report from the Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future (ACFF) and the Policy Institute at King’s College London underscores the need to convince policymakers of the economic benefits of tackling dental caries as one of the key steps required to accelerate progress towards a “cavity-free world”.

It’s incredible to think that globally, 60-90% of children and nearly 100% of adults have suffered from cavities – the severe stage of caries.

To put it another way that means that untreated dental caries in permanent teeth affects 2.4 billion people and was the most prevalent condition among all those evaluated in the Lancet “Global Burden of Disease Study” (Read more). Rather more shockingly that also means that untreated caries in children’s teeth was the tenth most prevalent condition, affecting over 621 million children worldwide! (Read more)

Something needs to change

One international expert group has urged that we need to: ‘Demonstrate to policymakers the economic value of a shift towards preventive dentistry to speed up progress towards a Cavity-Free world.’

This latest report argues that systematic economic and comprehensive clinical data must be collected in order to show policy officials that, in the long term, preventing dental cavities can be cost-effective both for individual patients and health systems.

Learning from current global experiences, the report also argues that other steps must be taken to accelerate the current shift towards a greater focus on preventive dental care:

  • New payment systems for dentists should be created, to ensure that caries prevention and control is properly rewarded in addition to traditional restorative caries treatment.
  • Dentists and the wider dental health workforce should be better-equipped to provide leading-edge prevention and should, where possible, collaborate more closely with medical practitioners.
  • Efforts should be made to encourage the public to change their behaviour (through, for example, tax measures and advertising regulations aimed at sugary foods and drinks), and industry should be incentivised to adopt more socially responsible agendas.

The authors estimate that the potential economic and health benefits of a cavity-free world are significant, given that caries shares risk factors with other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. As a result, reducing the risk factors associated with caries can also help improve health more generally and reduce the financial costs arising from other conditions, as well as those due to caries.

The report is the product of discussions that took place at a “Policy Lab”, a session which, for the first time, brought together individuals from a range of different backgrounds – dentists, economists, public health officials, policy advisers, educators and psychologists – to provide new perspectives on the continuing problem of tooth decay across the life course and to explore possible ways forward.

The group concluded that while the science is settled on how to prevent disease and stop early-stage caries progressing to more harmful cavities, efforts to apply it have so far fallen short.

Professor Nigel Pitts, Director of the Dental Innovation and Translation Centre at King’s College London, said: “The Policy Lab was an innovative step in bringing together for the first time on this topic a broad, multi-faceted group of experts whose disciplines, until now, have not joined forces.

“The Lab participants concluded that to accelerate progress in this area we need to better explain the caries challenge to the many different types of stakeholders affected, in language that is clearer to each group. Caries is distributed very unevenly within and across countries, and there are two distinct target groups; those without access to care (preventive or other) and those with access to types of care that is restorative-only and no longer judged as appropriate.

“It is our job as dental and health professionals to ensure that the health of the public and patients is our priority. By working together across stakeholders to progress a shift towards prevention rather than just restorative treatment of caries, we will be ensuring a healthier future for millions as well as securing greater access to care for excluded patients.’’

Good news for hygienists

This report and the recommendations it makes are music to the ears of dental hygienists and oral health therapists around the world. DHAA CEO, Dr Melanie Hayes says: “Our profession is perfectly educated and trained, and positioned to meet this challenge. If the leaders and decision makers can be convinced that cavity-free is the way forward then it will be a major display of respect for our industry. We will pro-actively be demonstrating our support for this initiative in every way we can.”

Want to know more?

Download the full report, ‘Towards a cavity free future

View an infographic summarising the report’s key findings.

DID YOU KNOW?
1 The Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future (ACFF) is a global not-for-profit organisation which seeks to promote integrated clinical and public health action to confront the disease burden of caries, fight caries initiation and progression, and, along with a global community of supporters, progress towards a Cavity-Free Future for all age groups. The ACFF was established in collaboration with a worldwide panel of experts in dentistry and public health who share a fervent belief in joining together across professional, geographic, and stakeholder lines, to create a unified global movement dutifully committed to combating caries in communities around the world. Find out more.

2. The Dental Innovation and Translation Centre at King’s College London hosts the global office of ACFF. The DITC’s aim is to collaborate to secure viable innovation and sustainable impacts for the future. The King’s Strategic Vision 2029 guides the focus in collaborating to ‘make the world a better place’. Find out more.

4. The Policy Institute at King’s College London addresses complex policy and practice challenges with rigorous research, academic expertise and analysis focused on improving outcomes. Its vision is to contribute to building an ecosystem that enables the translation of research to inform policy and practice, and the translation of policy and practice needs into a demand-focused research culture. It does this by bringing diverse groups together, facilitating engagement between academic, business, philanthropic, clinical and policy communities around current and future societal issues. Find out more.