Health promotion and oral health

Health promotion deals with the broader determinants of health and seeks to reduce risks through sensitive policies and actions. Promotion of health in the settings where people live, work, learn and play is clearly the most creative and cost-effective way of improving oral health and, in turn, quality of life. Increasing urbanization as well as demographic and socio-environmental changes require comprehensive oral health action. It is unlikely that improvements in oral health can be achieved by isolated interventions that target specific behaviours. The most effective, sustainable interventions combine social policy and individual action through which healthy living conditions and lifestyles are promoted.

The WHO Global Oral Health Programme provides technical and policy support needed to enable countries to integrate oral health promotion with general health promotion. The development of programmes for oral health in targeted countries focuses on:

  • Identification of health determinants; mechanisms in place to improve capacity to design and implement interventions that promote oral health.
  • Implementation of community-based demonstration projects for oral health promotion, with special reference to poor and disadvantaged population groups.
  • Building capacity in planning and evaluation of national programmes for oral health promotion and evaluation of oral health promotion interventions in operation.
  • Development of methods and tools to analyse the processes and outcomes of oral health promotion interventions as part of national health programmes.
  • Establishment of networks and alliances to strengthen national and international actions for oral health promotion.

In accordance with WHO overall priorities, the Global Oral Health Programme has adopted the following strategic orientations and priorities for action.


Oral health and fluorides

Fluoride is being widely used on a global scale, with much benefit. Millions of people worldwide use fluoridated toothpaste, and/or are exposed to fluoridated water or fluoridated salt or other forms of fluoride applications (clinical topical fluorides, mouthrinses, tablets/drops). However, populations in many developing countries do not have access to fluorides for practical or economic reasons.

fIG. 7

Experiences from Africa tell that this is particularly the case for rural populations (Figure 7)14.

In WHO Technical Report Series No. 846 on "Fluorides and oral health" (1994)15, the recommendation on use of fluoridated toothpastes reads as follows:


Because fluoridated toothpaste is a highly effective means of caries control, every effort must be made to develop affordable fluoridated toothpastes for use in developing countries. The use of fluoride toothpastes being a public health measure, it would be in the interest of countries to exempt them from the duties and taxation applied to cosmetics. Recommendation 12, page 36