Healthy teeth, gums and mouths are things people tend to take for granted until they no longer have them. Experts say this is unfortunate because good habits and regular check-ups can prevent most oral health problems, and these are more likely to occur if people are fully aware of the importance of oral health.

"Oral disease can become a major impediment to our enjoyment of a healthy life," says Dr. Saskia Estupiñan, an expert on oral health at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). "We need to value and protect oral health before problems occur." 

Nine out of 10 people around the world are at risk of some form of oral disease, ranging from tooth decay and gum disease to oral cancer. Prevention begins in childhood, yet even in developed countries, from 60% to 90% of school-aged children have dental caries.

One of the most serious forms of oral disease is oral cancer, whose major risk factors are tobacco and alcohol use and the human papillomavirus (HPV). Dental professionals can play an important role in early detection by examining patients for signs of oral cancer during checkups.

In the Americas, the burden of oral disease has declined significantly since 1980, thanks in large part to public health interventions including salt and water fluoridation and the use of simple yet effective technologies for oral health care.

Oral disease can be prevented through healthy habits including:

  • Brushing teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Using dental floss every day.
  • Rinsing daily with fluoride mouthwash.
  • Having regular dental check-ups for both children and adults.
  • Avoiding soft drinks, artificial juices and energy drinks.
  • Avoiding sweets, candies and starchy snacks.
  • Avoiding junk foods.
  • Avoiding tobacco products and alcohol.

PAHO's technical cooperation has helped countries strengthen their oral health services through training, implementation of proven best practices, and partnerships. PAHO's Caries-Free Communities Initiative, for example, works to expand access to essential and basic oral health services for everyone, especially vulnerable groups, through partnerships between the private and public sectors. It emphasizes integration of oral health into primary healthcare services and promotes the use of cost-effective interventions. Partners in the initiative include Colgate-Palmolive and the School of Dentistry of the Javeriana Pontifical University in Colombia.


PAHO Oral Health Program