Investing in oral health is an investment in the economy

04 June 2024

A World Economic Forum report has found that investing in oral health improves overall health outcomes and economic growth.

A growing oral health crisis is impacting billions of people, straining health systems and economies worldwide. Dental care has historically been overlooked as a critical health issue, with vulnerable populations particularly affected.

The Economic Rationale for a Global Commitment to Invest in Oral Health – published in collaboration with the American Dental Association, Colgate-Palmolive Company and Henry Schein, Inc. – shows how a lack of investment in oral health globally has created a significant health crisis and placed an economic burden on many governments, businesses and individuals.

Almost half of the world’s population is impacted by oral diseases, with the number of cases growing faster than the population worldwide. Those who suffer from oral diseases are at higher risk of other severe illnesses such as diabetes, stroke, heart and respiratory diseases and cancer.

Shyam Bishen, head of the World Economic Forum Centre for Health and Healthcare, said, “The evidence is overwhelmingly clear: an investment in oral health is an investment towards a productive workforce and a healthy society overall. Immediate action is needed from all sectors to address the growing burden of oral diseases.”

Oral diseases affect some 3.5bn people annually and contribute to a global economic burden of $710bn in treatment costs and productivity losses. Vulnerable populations globally are disproportionately paying the substantial economic penalty associated with unmet oral health needs.

The report calls for concerted public-private collaboration to accelerate investment in oral health, stressing that it would also boost overall health outcomes.

Better oral health has been associated with improved outcomes for people suffering from heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, and pregnant women, among others. Improving oral health equity globally would also help advance health-related sustainable development goals.

Presenting the economic rationale for a global commitment to invest in oral health, the report explores the role of various sectors in improving oral health. It outlines key measures each sector can take to improve oral health.

These include:

  • Governments could integrate oral health within public health insurance programmes and benefits packages as part of universal health coverage policies
  • Businesses should expand coverage for oral healthcare services in employer-provided health insurance programmes
  • Multilateral organisations to include oral health in policy dialogues for strengthening health systems
  • Civil society organisations should invest in oral health activities to support health-systems strengthening

Recognizing the complex challenges, the World Economic Forum launched the Oral Health Affinity Group (OHAG) in 2023 under its Global Health Equity Network, a group of more than 50 companies committed to advancing health equity to create stronger and more productive societies.

OHAG, whose members and collaborators are leaders from sectors and industries, is working to highlight the impact of poor oral health on health outcomes and the global economy. It recommends actions governments and private sector companies can take to advance global oral health.

Following the report findings, OHAG will work with partners to accelerate public-private partnerships and investment to improve oral health globally.