FDI World Dental Federation has identified the most serious challenges facing developing countries in South America, Africa, and Asia in their pursuit of optimal oral health. They include poor access to adequate care, lack of quality dental materials at an affordable price and insufficient investment in dental care.
The figures are stark: the average density of dentists to head of population in Africa is 1 to 150,000; in industrialized countries, the average is 1 to 5,000. In Ethiopia, the lack of access is even more dramatic with a density of only 1 dentist per 1 million people. This information derives from the Oral Health Atlas developed by FDI World Dental Federation, which provides a clear picture of dental health around the world.
Even in countries with fast growing populations of dentists, unequal access to dental care is a major obstacle to optimal oral health. India registers some 20,000 new dental graduates each year, yet there are still not enough dentists to adequately deal with the population’s needs. Brazil has a high proportion of dentists but they tend to remain in urban areas, leaving vast rural areas, without enough qualified dental practitioners to meet the needs of the population.
The problem is compounded by economic and social inequalities, which force many new graduates to seek work abroad or to move to urban areas in search of a better life and better professional opportunities. The result: large swathes of population lack proper assistance to meet their oral health needs.
“Developing countries face great challenges in their quest for optimal oral care.” stated Dr. Tin Chun Wong, FDI President, “Oral health is integral to general health and a basic human right, and we must ensure cost-effective solutions become available to all. Promoting better research and obtaining valid data will help us achieve this objective.”
The damage to oral health due to poor access to care is exacerbated by the fact that many developing countries are disproportionally affected by a number of oral diseases. For example, an estimated 140,000 people, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Asia, are affected by Noma, a neglected, deadly and disfiguring disease of poverty affecting mainly children. The combination of high risk of oral disease and low access to care, results in many patients not getting adequate treatment in time. In the case of Noma, this can result in an 80% mortality rate.
For other oral diseases, which could be identified and treated during routine check-ups, the delay in access means that when many patients are finally able to visit their local dentist, it is often too late and only one option remains: tooth extraction. This can become up to 90% of dental work in countries such as Tanzania, where the lack of access to qualified oral health care is a prominent issue.