The urgent need to address oral health in the US


By Foti Panagakos, DMD, PhD, global director of scientific affairs at Colgate-Palmolive

Panagakos_FotiOral health has been demonstrated to be associated with, and an important influencer of, overall health.  The role of prevention is critical to reducing, and eventually eliminating what the WHO has deemed an epidemic, caries or cavities in teeth.  This is the most prevalent disease among children, with more than 60% of 5 year olds having at least one cavity.  In addition, research over the last 25 years has shown that in patients who have a chronic disease, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, and concomitant serious gum or periodontal disease, the treatment of the oral disease will improve the control and management of the systemic chronic disease.

While these findings have stimulated action among the medical and dental communities to work collaboratively in identifying and treating oral disease in these very vulnerable patients, it is the fact that the oral disease is preventable in the first place which should take precedence in our management of this problem.  Developing and implementing preventative technologies is the solution to addressing both of these issues.

Today, the partnership between industry, government and non-government organizations in dealing with these two oral conditions is necessary for any preventive measures to be successful.   The oral care industry continues to develop new and innovative technologies that can improve the prevention of gum disease and caries beyond what is currently available.  These emerging technologies need to be tested by independent authorities, to determine the effectiveness and efficiency at which they prevent oral disease.

Many will say that over the counter and prescription oral care products, while important, do not rise to the level of some pharmaceuticals which are directed at more serious illnesses, and therefore our attention to rapid testing protocols should be reserved for these drugs.  However, when you examine the data regarding the effects of oral diseases, the economic impact is significant.  Consider the impact that tooth ache and pain has on school attendance and learning, as well as lost work time for a parent.  These diseases also have an impact on our healthcare system costs when considering the need for hospitalization via the emergency room for those who do not have access to alternative sources of care.

Addressing preventable disease is the norm in today’s healthcare system.  It is the most effective way to reduce costs and improve health.  This is no different for oral disease.  Working together, industry and its partners can enhance the prevention of oral disease through the development and testing of new treatments that will improve oral health, overall health and quality of life for all.

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Laurie MacCaskill, a seven-year pancreatic cancer survivor