In The Lancet, A Call for “Bold Action” for the WHO’s Global Oral Health Strategy

The Lancet WHO Oral Health Comment


Oral health has long been neglected on the global health agenda — but in 2021, that may begin to change. In January, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a resolution on oral health calling for the development of a global strategy, action plan, and monitoring framework, and the "historic" resolution was approved by the Ministers of Health from the 194 member states of the WHO during the World Health Assembly in May.

In a new commentary published June 23 in The Lancet, NYU Dentistry’s Dr. Habib Benzian and fellow members of the Lancet Commission on Oral Health call for the WHO to take “bold action” in its new global oral health policy framework. Specifically, the authors write that the WHO, its member states, and partners need to focus on six key issues:

  1. Foster community engagement and inclusion of marginalized populations in policy dialogues, recognizing the experiences of people living with oral diseases.
  2. Place equity and social justice at the core of decisions across all dimensions of oral health, aligned with the goals of primary health care and universal health coverage.
  3. Tackle commercial determinants, especially sugar, as a major risk factor for poor oral health.
  4. Embrace major system reforms, including integrating oral health care with universal health care and new financing models.
  5. Improve data collection and disease and risk factor surveillance in order to advance evidence-based policy decision making.
  6. Close financing gaps in oral health care, including increasing public funding, reducing out-of-pocket expenses, and reallocating spending towards cost-effective interventions.

"Achieving sustained and affordable access to essential oral health-care services and prevention for almost 3·5 billion people affected by untreated oral diseases requires impactful policy solutions and radical system reform," the authors write.

Dr. Benzian, co-director of the NYU Dentistry WHO Collaborating Center for Quality-improvement, Evidence-based Dentistry, led the drafting of the comment, which was coauthored by a team of international colleagues that are members of the Lancet Commission on Oral Health, including Carol Guarnizo-Herreño of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Cristin Kearns of the University of California San Francisco, Miriam Wamotho Muriithi of Kenya’s Ministry of Health, and Richard Watt of the University College London.