The recently published report on the financial and human cost of periodontitis, commissioned by the EFP and published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), shows that the prevalence of the disease in the six countries analysed has remained stable over the last 20 years.
Despite improvements in the quality of oral-health services in Europe and increased awareness of the importance of oral hygiene, the report’s data suggest that these have had little impact on the prevalence and incidence of periodontitis.
Time to take gum disease seriously: The societal and economic impact of periodontitis cites the Global Burden of Disease (2017) which estimated the prevalence of severe periodontitis at 11 percent, affecting 743 million people worldwide, putting it “almost on par with the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections” which affect 16 percent of the population and more common than cardiovascular disease, which has a prevalence of 6.6 percent.
The prevalence of milder forms of periodontitis are “staggeringly common”, affecting at least half of the global population, says the EIU report. It notes contrasts between the six countries studied: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK. Thus, in 2010 the prevalence of severe periodontitis in Spain was 4.3%, while in Italy it was 13.1%.
However, the authors point out that reliable and comparable prevalence data is “difficult to come by” and the best estimates – those of the Global Burden of Disease – cover only severe periodontitis.
Increasing age is a well-documented risk factor for periodontitis and the report shows a steep increase in prevalence in 30- and 40-year-olds and how the disease is generally highest in 65- to 74-year-olds, while only 1.7% of cases are among younger populations.
“As the European population continues to age, the demand for periodontal detection and treatment rises, making it crucial to design more effective prevention strategies and trigger efficient policy responses,” the EIU report argues.
Social inequality is another factor that needs to be addressed because “less stringent dental care routines, poorer access to dental practices, and less frequent attendance at preventative dental check-ups are associated with living in disadvantaged areas.”
While there is a greater prevalence of periodontitis among people living in poverty, ethnic minorities, and isolated older adults, the disparities in dental outcomes and care access between affluent and deprived communities are “so severe that a social-determinants-of-health approach must be part of the process to improve outcomes.”
As the report notes, another factor on the prevalence of periodontitis is lifestyle choices, notably smoking and poor diet, and “directly modifying behaviours, therefore, is a simple yet powerful policy message for mitigating periodontitis.”