New findings published in the Journal of Dental Research have suggested that as many as 2.4 billion people worldwide suffer from untreated tooth decay in their adult teeth, in addition to 621 million children with decaying milk teeth.
The data was collected as part of a major study led by Professor Wagner Marcenes of Queen Mary University of London. The research involved analysing 378 previous studies undertaken between 1990 and 2010 around the world, which had had a total of 4.7 million participants.
The research team was similarly international, with members from the University of Washington in Seattle and the University of Queensland in Australia.
It was discovered that around one third of the UK’s population had some level of tooth decay, representing a major public health burden. However, the situation was far more pronounced in Lithuania (one of the most severely affected countries), where the proportion of the population with cavities was about 68 per cent.
Professor Marcenes said: “It is alarming to see prevention and treatment of tooth decay has been neglected at this level. Tooth decay is a significant economic burden. And if left untreated, it leads to poor productivity at work and absenteeism in adults, and poor school attendance and performance in children.”
He believed that the main cause of the problem was a high level of sugar in people’s diets, thanks to an increased amount of sweetened food and drink, as well as more frequent snacking.
It was also noted that the burden of decay seemed to be shifting from children to adults. Normally it is assumed that children with good oral health are more likely to remain decay-free in the future, but the statistics did not bear this out.
Professor Wagner recommended that there should be more dental health initiatives targeted at adults, such as workplace schemes, although he emphasised that the scale of the problem was too large for the dental profession to tackle alone.