New Report Makes Economic Case for Increased Oral Health Investment

23 May 2024
  • A growing oral health crisis is impacting billions of people, straining health systems and economies worldwide.
  • Dental care has historically been overlooked as a critical health issue, with vulnerable populations particularly affected.
  • Health insurance policy changes and expanded coverage for oral healthcare will be crucial to tackle the crisis and improve health equity globally.
  • Read the full report here.

Geneva, Switzerland, 23 May 2024 – Investing in oral health pays dual dividends in the form of improved overall health outcomes and economic growth, according to a new World Economic Forum report released today ahead of the World Health Assembly 2024.

The Economic Rationale for a Global Commitment to Invest in Oral Health – published in collaboration with the American Dental Association, Colgate-Palmolive Company and Henry Schein, Inc. – shows how a lack of investment in oral health globally has created a significant health crisis and placed an economic burden on many governments, businesses and individuals.

Almost half of the world’s population is impacted by oral diseases, with the number of cases growing faster than the population worldwide. Those who suffer from oral diseases are at higher risk of other severe illnesses such as diabetes, stroke, heart and respiratory diseases and cancer.

“The evidence is overwhelmingly clear: an investment in oral health is an investment towards a productive workforce and a healthy society overall,” said Shyam Bishen, Head, World Economic Forum Centre for Health and Healthcare. “Immediate action is needed from all sectors to address the growing burden of oral diseases.”

Oral diseases affect some 3.5 billion people annually and contribute to a global economic burden of $710 billion in treatment costs and productivity losses. Vulnerable populations globally are disproportionately paying the substantial economic penalty associated with unmet oral health needs.

The report calls for concerted public-private collaboration to accelerate investment in oral health, stressing that it would also boost overall health outcomes. In particular, better oral health has been associated with improved outcomes for people suffering from heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, and for pregnant women, among others. Improving oral health equity globally would also help advance the health-related Sustainable Development Goals.

Presenting the economic rationale for a global commitment to invest in oral health, the report explores the role of various sectors in improving oral health. It outlines key measures each sector can take to improve oral health. These include the need for governments to integrate oral health within public health insurance programmes and benefits packages as part of universal health coverage policies; businesses to expand coverage for oral healthcare services in employer-provided health insurance programmes; multilateral organizations to include oral health in policy dialogues for strengthening health systems; and civil society organizations to invest in oral health activities as part of philanthropic support for in-country, health-systems strengthening.

Recognizing the complex challenges, the World Economic Forum launched the Oral Health Affinity Group (OHAG) in 2023 under its Global Health Equity Network, a group of more than 50 companies committed to advancing health equity to create stronger and more productive societies. OHAG, whose members and collaborators are leaders from sectors and industries, is working to highlight the impact of poor oral health on health outcomes and the global economy and recommends actions that governments and private sector companies can take to advance global oral health. Following the report findings, OHAG will work with partners to accelerate public-private partnerships and investment to improve oral health globally.

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All opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Economic Forum Blog is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around the key topics that shape global, regional and industry agendas.

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