WEF white paper highlights economic rationale for oral health investment

A white paper by the World Economic Forum (WEF) reaffirms the links between oral health and overall health and outlines the economic rationale for oral health investment.

Titled ‘The Economic Rationale for a Global Commitment to Invest in Oral Health’, the white paper was written in partnership with the American Dental Association, Colgate-Palmolive Company and Henry Schein, and published on 23 May ahead of the World Health Assembly 2024 from 27 May to 1 Jun. The white paper also presents concrete action pathways for public, private and civil society leaders for addressing the global epidemic of oral disease.

(Image: World Economic Forum)

According to the paper, almost half the world’s population is impacted by oral diseases that interfere with daily function and put them at higher risk of and from other systemic illnesses such as diabetes, stroke, heart and respiratory diseases, and even some cancers.

If further reads that the cost of oral diseases is staggering, with estimates putting the direct treatment costs plus productivity losses at more than $710bn each year. Investing in oral health pays dividends in the form of better oral health and well-being, improved overall health and economic growth. Yet oral health has remained a neglected global health challenge — until now.

Divided into eight chapters, the white paper stressed the importance of oral health for overall health and wellbeing, presenting data its afflications such as how gum disease increases the risk of a first heart attack by 28%. Conversely, better oral health has been associated with improved outcomes for people living with heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, as well as for pregnant people.

The white paper highlighted the growth of oral diseases globally impacting an estimated 3.5 billion people, and presented oral health a key driver of economic wellbeing which can lower overall healthcare costs.  

In the United States (US), individuals with heart disease saved $548 to $675 per year of healthcare spending when they went for routine preventive oral healthcare. Among people with diabetes, the savings ranged from $90020 to $2,840,21 and patients with multiple chronic conditions saved even more.

It asserted that the highlight level of unmet oral healthcare needs is rooted in health policy choices, citing the different policy approaches across countries globally.

Moving forward, the white paper concluded that the need for a global commitment for oral health investment. Among the actions suggested to address this need, the white paper referred to the WHO ‘Global Strategy on Oral Health’ developed in 2022, and a ‘Global Oral Health Action Plan (2023-2030)’ in May 2023. The action plan presents a set of 100 tangible actions to improve oral health across six strategic action areas: A public health approach to oral health, integration of oral health into primary healthcare, innovative workforce models to respond to population needs for oral health, people-centred oral healthcare, tailored oral health interventions across the life course, and optimised digital technologies for oral health.

The white paper also outlined key actions that governments, the private sector, multilateral organisations and civil society can take to elevate oral health within the global health and development agenda. Actions for private sector stakeholders include the promotion of research and development in products that promote oral health and work to create healthy alternatives to help phase out products that cause oral diseases, and the support and alignment with the private sector actions outlined in the WHO Global Oral Health Action Plan.

The white paper is the first in a planned series, which will present the economic rationale for a global commitment to invest in oral health and explore the role of various sectors in improving oral health. Through this and future white papers that will dive deeper into other dimensions of this issue, the WEF hopes to inspire international health leaders, policy-makers and private sector partners to reconnect the mouth to the body in pursuit of a healthier future for all.

Related: MPS Foundation extends partnership with FDI World Dental Federation to tackle stress and anxiety in dentistry