A new report (pdf) finds that convincing policymakers of the economic benefits of tackling dental caries (tooth decay), is one of the key steps required to accelerate progress towards a “cavity-free world”. Globally, 60-90% of children and nearly 100% of adults have suffered from cavities- the severe stage of caries.
The report, published by the Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future and the Policy Institute at King’s College London, argues that systematic economic and comprehensive clinical data must be collected in order to show policy officials that, in the long term, preventing dental cavities can be cost-effective both for individual patients and health systems.
Learning from current global experiences, the report also argues that other steps must be taken to accelerate the current shift towards a greater focus on preventive dental care:
- New payment systems for dentists should be created, to ensure that caries prevention and control is properly rewarded in addition to traditional restorative caries treatment.
- Dentists and the wider dental health workforce should be better-equipped to provide leading-edge prevention and should, where possible, collaborate more closely with medical practitioners.
- Efforts should be made to encourage the public to change their behaviour (through, for example, tax measures and advertising regulations aimed at sugary foods and drinks), and industry should be incentivised to adopt more socially responsible agendas.
The authors estimate that the potential economic and health benefits of a cavity-free world are significant, given that caries shares risk factors with other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. As a result, reducing the risk factors associated with caries can also help improve health more generally and reduce the financial costs arising from other conditions, as well as those due to caries.
The report is the product of discussions that took place at a “Policy Lab”, a session which, for the first time, brought together individuals from a range of different backgrounds – dentists, economists, public health officials, policy advisers, educators and psychologists – to provide new perspectives on the continuing problem of tooth decay across the life course and to explore possible ways forward.
The group concluded that while the science is settled on how to prevent disease and stop early-stage caries progressing to more harmful cavities, efforts to apply it have so far fallen short.
Professor Nigel Pitts, Director of the Dental Innovation and Translation Centre at King’s College London, said:
“The Policy Lab was an innovative step in bringing together for the first time on this topic a broad, multi-faceted group of experts whose disciplines, until now, have not joined forces. The Lab participants concluded that to accelerate progress in this area we need to better explain the caries challenge to the many different types of stakeholders affected, in language that is clearer to each group. Caries is distributed very unevenly within and across countries, and there are two distinct target groups; those without access to care (preventive or other) and those with access to types of care which is restorative-only and no longer judged as appropriate. It is our job as dental and health professionals to ensure that the health of the public and patients is our priority. By working together across stakeholders to progress a shift towards prevention rather than just restorative treatment of caries, we will be ensuring a healthier future for millions as well as securing greater access to care for excluded patients.’’