Global oral health inequalities

  (photo credit: INIMAGE)
(photo credit: INIMAGE)

No doubt, the world is sharply divided into developed, developing, and underdeveloped states. So, with this clear distinction comes the wide disparity in services delivery across all sectors between countries in the international system, especially health care delivery. For instance, the level of awareness on oral health in developed countries cannot be compared to what is obtainable in developing and underdeveloped countries. 

According to dentist Dr. Gutterson, oral health care inequalities explain the sharp differences in the incidence, mortality, prevalence, and burden of oral disease and other health conditions in any society. Also, oral health inequalities explain the disparity in access to health care services amongst a particular set up of people between two countries or within a country. 

So, this implies that oral health disparities are prevalent in every society irrespective of social development or economic advancement. For instance, in the United States, some states are more advanced in oral health service delivery, while some are still way behind. However, in recent times, different states have been implementing a series of policies to ensure everyone, irrespective of status has access to an effective oral health care delivery system. 

The implication of oral health inequalities 

According to the Global Burden of Disease Study report, untreated dental cavities in permanent teeth constitute the highest prevalent disease among 313 assessed. It was also discovered that over 530 million children worldwide suffer from this disease. Although this disease can be treated and infected patients can recover from its impact if treated on time. However, the significant challenge militating against eradicating this disease is access to oral health care delivery. 

As stated earlier, the case of oral health diseases varies according to country. For instance, in low-income countries, the socioeconomic inequalities to access adequate oral health services range around 35%. In lower-middle-income countries, it is 60%, while in upper-middle-income countries, it is 75% and 82% for high-income countries.

Possible ways to bridge the gap in oral health service delivery 

Now that we have agreed that oral health inequality is everywhere, let’s look at possible solutions to address the problem. 

1. Increase in the number of dentists worldwide 

The field of medicine is one big family, and dentistry happens to be one of its branches. Nevertheless, it has been discovered in recent times that the number of dentists worldwide is decreasing. So, this means that interest in the profession is waning, thus impacting the profession badly. Also, medical research showing that failure in oral health can lead to other life-threatening sicknesses such as hearing loss, blood infection, and heart-related diseases has given the need for more doctors in dentistry.

2. Vital local oral health research centers  

Increasing the number of dental doctors will be counterproductive in the absence of working oral health facilities, especially at the local level. To ensure that everyone has access to oral health, there must be provisions for modern equipment and infrastructure that can meet the needs of the number of people in need of dental treatment. 

3. Increase in awareness 

Creating awareness about oral health will go a long way in reducing the spread of oral diseases. The world at large must see oral health as a beast that must be tamed, and failure to do that will only aggravate the already worsened situation. While awareness is high in developed countries, the case is not the same in developing societies. There are places where oral health topics are not being mentioned because they feel it does not count. So, to save the situation, the government, civil societies, and international organizations should create a forum where the importance of oral health will be discussed. 

In addition, talking about it in a broader context will help create the needed awareness, and everyone can fully understand the prevention instead of focusing only on the treatment.


Every society experiences oral health inequalities. However, the situation is worse in low-income states when compared to high-income states. To address the problem, there is a need to see the necessity of bridging the gap between those who have access and those who don’t. The reason is that oral disease is classified as a contagious disease that can quickly spread from one individual to another. 

To be safe, everyone, irrespective of their social status, needs to join the fight to ensure a larger percentage of people have access to an affordable oral health care system. 

This article was written in cooperation with Richard O'Leary