The World Health Organization defines oral health as “a state of being free from mouth and facial pain,” which may be caused by a variety of diseases and conditions, including cavities and tooth decay, gum disease, oral cancer, infection, dental trauma, and birth defects such as a cleft lip or palate. These conditions often have a detrimental impact on individuals’ overall health and quality of life, affecting everything from the ability to eat and drink to the ability to speak, laugh and smile.
In 2007, World Oral Health Day was established, in part to raise awareness about the connection between oral health and overall health and well-being. This year’s theme, “Live Mouth Smart,” emphasizes the importance of establishing good oral health and hygiene habits early in life to ensure positive future health outcomes. But what about those who lack access to appropriate dental care and related resources?
The burden of oral diseases due to a lack of access to preventive care, such as routine cleanings, coupled with exposure to social and environmental risk factors, including lack of access to safe drinking water and high consumption of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, disproportionately affects low-income populations and communities. The prevalence of oral disease within these populations leads to increased economic strain resulting from the high-cost of treatment, as well as reduced school attendance and workforce participation.
Health Volunteers Overseas’ oral health program helps reduce the global burden of oral disease by building the capacity of the oral health workforce in resource-scarce countries. Volunteers specializing in dentistry and oral and maxillofacial surgery provide education and professional development opportunities to their colleagues overseas, which leads to increased access to both preventive care and advanced treatment techniques.
With the support of our sponsor the American Dental Association Foundation, HVO is able to operate projects at hospitals and universities around the world—from helping to implement a postdoctoral curriculum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to supporting the students and faculty at Haiti’s only dental school in Port-au-Prince. Together, HVO volunteers and international trainees provide patients with the resources they need to “live mouth smart,” reducing the global burden of oral disease.