WHO Collaborating Center for Quality-improvement, Evidence-based Dentistry

In December 2016, The World Health Organization (WHO) designated NYU Dentistry's Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion as a WHO Collaborating Center for Quality–improvement, Evidence-based Dentistry (QED WHO CC). The WHO designation recognizes NYU Dentistry’s expertise and commitment to evidence-based dentistry and provides the framework for developing, monitoring, and disseminating novel approaches to oral health education, prevention, and disease control in the Americas and globally.

In January 2021, the Department Epidemiology & Health Promotion was redesignated by the World Health Organization as a WHO Collaborating Center for Quality Improvement and Evidence-based Dentistry through December 2024. It is one of only 10 Collaborating Centers on oral health in the world and the only one in the Americas. WHO Collaborating Centers are designated by the WHO Director-General as part of a network of centers worldwide that implement concrete activities at the national, regional, and global levels in support of the strategic plans specific to WHO areas of work.

With the announcement of the redesignation, the NYU WHO Collaborating Center — which had been led by Richard Niederman, DMD, since its creation in December 2016 — was restructured and is now co-directed by Habib Benzian, DDS, MScDPH, PhD, and Eugenio Beltrán, DMD, DrPH, MPH. "The redesignation is testimony to our achievements and contributions to the WHO’s goals and objectives for oral health," said Dr. Benzian who is also research professor at the College of Dentistry and member of The Lancet Commission on Oral Health.

NYU Dentistry’s WHO Collaborating Center is committed to evidence-based dentistry, providing the framework for developing, monitoring, and disseminating novel approaches to oral health education, prevention, and disease control in the Americas and globally. In 2019, the Collaborating Center hosted a United Nations side event in collaboration with The Lancet and the World Economic Forum, following the high-profile publication of a special Lancet Series on Oral Health. The two-paper series, co-authored by Dr. Benzian, called for the “radical reform” of oral health care to prioritize prevention and integrate dentistry into primary care. “Our close relations with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in Washington D.C. and the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, allow us to support policy innovation to improve oral health in different ways,” said Dr. Beltrán.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Collaborating Center has focused its attention on the impact of COVID-19 on oral health worldwide. In a paper published in December 2020 in the Journal of Dental Research, Drs. Benzian, Beltrán, Niederman, and Mathur (from the Public Health Foundation of India/Liverpool University) discuss the need to better define what qualifies as “essential” oral health care during a pandemic, and propose definitions for “urgent” and “basic” oral health care—both of which are essential—that can safely and cost-effectively be delivered, even in a public health emergency. Building on the experience of managing the largest school-based oral health program and trial in the U.S. with more than 25,000 participating students in New York and New Hampshire, the Collaborating Center proposed a concept of Safer Aerosol-free Emergent (SAFER) Dentistry to reduce potential risks of COVID-19 transmission in dental practice. In addition, Dr. Benzian was part of a small expert team invited by the WHO to develop a checklist for schools reopening during a pandemic, designed to support policymakers, school staff, community leaders, and families.

More recently, NYU College of Dentistry’s WHO Collaborating Center, together with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health, hosted a virtual event on May 26, 2021, on integrating oral health and global health. The meeting took place on the occasion of the 74th World Health Assembly of the WHO, which convened virtually from May 24 through June 1 and brought together ministers of health from all 194 WHO member states. At that time, the WHO adopted a resolution on oral health calling for the development of a global oral health strategy, action plan, and monitoring framework in order to integrate oral health with Universal Health Coverage and the global agenda for non-communicable diseases by 2030.

“Oral health has long been too low on the list of global health priorities. This is why governments, through the resolution, were now asking for change,” said Dr. Benzian. “Almost half of the world’s population suffers from one or several oral diseases, many of which are preventable but have a serious impact on individuals, health systems, and economies. We will continue to use the unique role of NYU’s WHO Collaborating Center to build a vibrant forum for exchange to the benefit of students, faculty and the wider oral health and public health communities,” he added.