Key facts about oral health

What does oral health mean?
  • Oral health means health of the mouth including the head, face and oral cavity.
  • Keeping your mouth healthy helps it to function correctly and is essential to maintaining general health and well-being, and a good quality of life.
Why does oral health matter?
  • A healthy mouth allows you to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow and convey a range of emotions with confidence and without pain, discomfort and disease.
  • Oral disease can impact every aspect of life, including personal relationships and self-confidence. It can lead to significant pain, anxiety, disfigurement, acute and chronic infections, eating as well as sleep disruption and can result in social isolation, loss of work and school days, and an impaired quality of life.
  • The good news is that oral health can be maintained by being aware of the risk factors and taking actions to address these.
  • Most oral health conditions are largely preventable and can be treated in their early stages.
What are the main risk factors for oral diseases?
  • Risk factors for oral disease include poor oral hygiene, unhealthy diets high in sugar, tobacco use and harmful alcohol consumption.
  • Maintaining good oral health and managing risk factors can help in the prevention of other major noncommunicable diseases (cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes).
How many people are affected by oral diseases?
  • Oral diseases affect nearly 3.5 billion people worldwide[1].
  • It is estimated that 2.3 billion people suffer from tooth decay (dental caries) of permanent teeth, globally[2]
  • Untreated tooth decay in permanent teeth is the most common health condition, globally2.
  • More than 530 million children suffer from tooth decay of primary teeth (milk teeth)2.
  • Gum (periodontal) disease is among humanity’s most common diseases, affecting up to 50% of the global population5.
  • Severe gum (periodontal) disease, which may result in tooth loss, affects 10% of the global population2.
  • Oral cancer, which includes cancers of the lip, other parts of the mouth and the oropharynx (part of throat at the back of the mouth), is one of the 10 most common cancers, with an estimated 300-700 thousand new cases every year[3].
  • Cleft lip and palate (clefts) are the most common birth difference of the face and mouth and can affect as many as 1 in 500 births. They occur when parts of the lip and/or palate do not fuse together during fetal development[4].
  • Noma, mostly found in sub-Saharan Africa, is a severe gangrenous disease of the mouth and the face. It mainly affects children between the ages of 2 and 6 years suffering from malnutrition, affected by infectious disease, living in extreme poverty with poor oral hygiene and/or with weakened immune systems. Without treatment, noma is fatal in 90% of cases2.



[1] FDI World Dental Federation. The Challenge of Oral Disease – A call for global action. Oral Health Atlas. 2nd ed. Geneva: FDI World Dental Federation; 2015. Available from: [Accessed 21 October 2020].

[2] FDI World Dental Federation. Oral Health in Comprehensive Cleft Care. Available from: [Accessed 21 October 2020].

5 FDI World Dental Federation. Periodontal Health and Disease: A practical guide to reduce the global burden of

periodontal disease. Available from: [Accessed 21 October 2020].

[3] GBD 2017 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence Collaborators. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 354 diseases and injuries for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet. 2018; 392: 1789–8583. Available from:

[4] World Health Organization. Oral Health. Available from: [Accessed 21 October 2020].