Be Proud of Your Mouth: Why this year marks a turning point for oral health in Europe and the world

Every year, I very much welcome World Oral Health Day as an important milestone to inspire meaningful action to help end the neglect of oral health globally. However, we are currently witnessing war and its grave consequences for Ukraine and the whole of Europe. We stand in total solidarity with the people of Ukraine, our thoughts are with the victims of this brutal invasion, and we call for peace and respect of human life. The resulting humanitarian catastrophe and health consequences of this war should be addressed as a priority, and we acknowledge the strong role of the European people institutions in that respect.

This year, the World Oral Health Day takes a special significance as we reflect on the recent adoption of the “WHO Global Strategy on Oral Health” by the WHO’s 150th Executive Board, which was strongly supported by the EU and all its Member States. The Platform for Better Oral Health in Europe strongly supported and warmly welcomed this strategy, as it fully aligns with our Manifesto. We look forward to the final adoption of the Global Strategy by the World Health Assembly in May 2022 and to supporting its implementation in Europe as this is a unique opportunity to put oral health on regional and national policy agendas and achieve good oral health for all in Europe.

Oral health is an integral part of general health, a key factor for quality of life, and essential for well-being. Oral diseases and conditions are the most common non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and share the same risk factors as other NCDs, such as unhealthy diet, tobacco and alcohol use, resulting in negative impacts on citizens’ health. The socio-economic burden of oral diseases is considerable in the EU as they affect the majority of school-aged children and adults, and account for 5% of public health spending. Moreover, oral diseases are socially patterned and disproportionately affect the more disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in our societies. Therefore, the Platform will engage with EU institutions to work towards the implementation of integrated health promotion actions and preventive strategies within the EU’s NCD initiative, to improve the health of European populations and reduce health inequalities. Furthermore, the European Beating Cancer Plan is aligned with our core goal to create a more coordinated and targeted approach towards cancer prevention at EU level, with oral cancer being the 7th most common cancer on the continent. These important synergies with the European Commission’s initiatives bring forward the overarching ambition for a strong European Health Union backed by an unprecedented EU4Health budget. In this regard, we ask that a percentage of this budget should be earmarked to support the implementation of the Global Oral Health Strategy in Europe – both at regional and national level.

Europe has a unique opportunity to take public health action on a long-neglected health policy challenge. We strongly believe that the European Union and the WHO Regional Office for Europe have a critical joint role to play in supporting the implementation of the Oral Health Strategy at European level and we call on both organisations to commit the necessary resources to translate the strategy into actions. We remain committed to work closely throughout the process with all stakeholders to achieve better oral health for European populations.

Prof Georgios Tsakos,

Chair of the Platform for Better Oral Health in Europe