Oral health

Oral health in ageing societies: Integration of oral health and general health

Global population ageing is expected to continue in the 21st century, and maintaining maximum individual and population health throughout the lifespan is thus a significant challenge. Oral health is an essential element of general health and quality of life through an individual's life-course - yet one that is often neglected in integrated approaches for the promotion of general health.

Effective information-sharing between oral health professionals and other health care disciplines is critical for efficient health care and public health. The Ageing and Health Programme (AHP) of the WHO Centre for Health Development, Kobe, Japan, in collaboration with the Oral Health Programme (ORH) at WHO Headquarters, is focusing its research on oral health in ageing societies. Working with ORH and other relevant international bodies, AHP organized a meeting to raise awareness of oral health as an essential factor in general health and to bridge the gap between oral health and other important research and policy areas for individual health and community health.

The objectives of the meeting were to discuss preliminary outcomes of the global state of the science research on the relationship between oral health and general health from a population ageing perspective; to identify appropriate comprehensive and integrated approaches and practices through health policy for better health care based on a multidisciplinary point of view; to assess the feasibility of integrated oral health strategies for development of best practice models through evidence of current practices; to discuss proper oral health policy formulation and common risk factor approaches in oral health promotion and disease prevention in ageing societies with a view to continuous development of a global database; and to promote and re-emphasize the importance of oral health as a component of overall health.

The meeting was held in the WHO Centre for Health Development from 1 to 3 June 2005. Thirty invited participants from twelve WHO Member States, in addition to representatives from the WHO Secretariat, shared information through presentations and intensive discussion during the meeting. Dr Kreisel, Director of the Kobe Centre, welcomed all participants in his opening remarks and briefly introduced the Centre's activities with a special focus on oral health in ageing societies. Dr Petersen outlined the objectives of the meeting and presented WHO global strategies and approaches for improving the oral health of older people. Following the introductory presentation on global ageing and the core exposé of the relationship between oral health and general health status in ageing societies, 17 presentations covered a variety of multidisciplinary approaches. Discussions followed each session, and overall issues and recommendations were debated on the last day.

The meeting emphasized the importance of strengthening advocacy for action, legislation, goal setting, and planning of programmes for better oral and general health in old age.

The participants expressed concern about the limited primary health facilities and access to oral health services in most developing countries. They recommended strongly that oral health systems in all countries be effectively oriented towards disease prevention and health promotion and that systems better match the needs of older people, including the functionally independent, the frail and the functionally dependent. They also emphasized the need for training of health professionals for better service and care, based on multidisciplinary and holistic approaches, and pointed out the instrumental role of caregivers globally in promoting the health of older people.

On the basis of their experience, meeting participants indicated that strengthening of good-quality research into oral health - general health relationships is needed. Translation of knowledge into clinical and public health practice is particularly important as poor and disadvantaged population groups worldwide have yet to benefit fully from advances in health sciences - a statement that is particularly true of the oral health of older people in most countries.

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