Oral Hygiene Around the World

Dr. John Luther

Dr. John Luther, D.D.S. & Founder

September 17, 2014

Oral Hygiene

Timbercrest Dental Center


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know how important oral hygiene is for us…and you.

Coming from a dentist, this might sound like a cliché, but there are few things as important to your overall health as brushing and flossing twice a day.

For the majority of us, we come home to a toothbrush in the medicine cabinet or our gym bag. When it’s time to replace our trusty toothbrush (every three months, by the way), we head down to the local drugstore or Walmart and grab a new one for 1.98. Easy. There has never been a “Great United States Toothbrush Shortage,” or “Toothpaste Drought of 1911.” These items are always around us as they have always been.

Toothbrushes are the centerpiece of oral hygiene
Photo credit to Anderson Mancini | Flickr

Most of the developed world has access to oral health tools. In the developing and third world, however, poverty, lack of market-infrastructure and limited transportation can make acquiring these simple items difficult or impossible.

On top of this, a lack of education can remove what is perhaps the most important element to great oral hygiene.

Even with limited access to proper oral care instruments, knowing basic procedures can mean the difference between a healthy population and a population that suffers from mostly preventable ailments like NOMA (a painful, ulcerative disease of the mouth), diabetes (which can result from periodontal disease), and even some forms of cancer.

How is the world doing?

One of the biggest indicators of how a specific region is doing with regards to oral health is called the DMFT index. DMFT is short for Decayed, Missing or Filled Teeth. It is an average number (ranging from 0 – 32) that is used as an indicator for overall oral health.

A report published in March of 2014 by the Dental Tribune, shows that nearly 100 percent of adults and between 60 and 90 percent of children suffer from at least one dental carie (cavities, tooth decay or rot).

The most recent World Oral Health Report by the World Health Organization’s Global Oral Health Programme does reveal some interesting statistics, however

  • High DMFT (Over 13.9) includes nations such as Brazil, Canada, England, Ireland, Colombia, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand, Chile, Switzerland, Greece, France and others.
  • Moderate DMFT (9.0 – 13.9) includes nations such as the United States of America, Spain, Argentina, Algeria, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Russia, Turkey, Cuba and others.
  • Low DMFT (5.0 – 8.9) includes nations such as India, Egypt, Indonesia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Kenya, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and others.
  • Very Low DMFT (Less than 5.0) includes nations such as China, Namibia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and others.
  • No data on DMFT includes nations such as Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, Angola, Kyrgyzstan, Guatemala, Peru, Paraguay, Somalia, Djibouti, Oman and others.
World Health Organization logo from Geneva Switzerland
The World Health Organization is located in Geneva Switzerland.
Photo credit to Geneva | Flickr

It can be easy to assume that because developed nations have access to better dental care, their dental care is perfect. The numbers instead seem to suggest that poor oral hygiene (high DMFT) if universal and, if anything, more closely tied to Europe and the Americas.

What is being done?

The Global Oral Health Programme has set an objective to reduce both the number of dental caries and lower the DMFT average around the globe. This goal is actualized in spreading awareness, providing shortcuts to educational materials and working with international charity organizations to provide an adequate distribution of necessary oral health supplies.

Other organizations like the FDI (or World Dental Organization) have created massive awareness campaigns, such as “World Oral Health Day,” which aims to raise awareness on the importance of Oral Health by creating a holiday.

The holiday, which is going on it’s seventh year takes place on March 20. The date 3/20 is symbolic as the organization has set a goal of adults having 32 teeth and 0 caries.

Another goal that is universal among these organizations and programs is education and assistance for children. “The Tooth Thief,” for instance, is a children’s book that was written and illustrated on commission for World Oral Health Day. In an attempt to educate children on the importance of oral health, the FDI has made the book free to download on their website here.

World Oral Health Day's the Tooth Thief
Pictured credit to World Oral Health Day


What can I do?

Supporting and participating in any of these growing organizations’ programs is a great way to support the cause of better oral hygiene around the world.  You can check them out at their locations:

Global Oral Health Program
Alpha Omega International
Global Child Dental Fund
Global Dental Relief

With greater awareness and education, oral health practices are slowly increasing both next door and on the other side of the world. While numbers like the DMFT and reports like the World Oral Health Report pretty plainly show there is still work to do, more and more workers, campaigns and organizations are being put to the task every day.

A smile you can feel great about should never be out of reach for anyone.

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Timbercrest Dental Center has been closely monitoring the spread of the coronavirus. As leaders in the healthcare profession, we are responsible for ensuring the safety of our patients, our dental teams, and our community. Consistent with the recommendations from the Wisconsin Board of Dentistry, Wisconsin Dental Association, and the Surgeon General, we will postpone any non-emergent/elective care for two weeks starting 3/20/2020. We took this very difficult decision seriously and propose the following plan of action subesetent to the two-week hiatus. We will still have availability to treat emergent dental needs.