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Oral Health Organizations

Oral Health & Preventive Dentistry (Volume 1, No. 4, 2003, 309-315)
Poul Erik Petersen, Chief, WHO Oral Health Programme
World Health Organization

This article highlights the activities undertaken by WHO Oral Health Programme to strengthen its involvement in tobacco cessation at the global level and initiatives related to co-operation with NGOs in oral health and WHO Collaborating Centres in Oral Health.


In addition to several other chronic diseases, tobacco use is a primary cause of many oral diseases and adverse oral conditions. For example, tobacco is a risk factor for oral cancer, periodontal disease, and congenital defects in children whose mothers smoke during pregnancy. The epidemic of tobacco use is one of the greatest threats to global health; sadly the future appears worse because of the globalization of marketing. The World Health Organization (WHO) has strengthened the work for effective control of tobacco use. At the World Health Assembly in May 2003 the Member States agreed on a groundbreaking public health treaty to control tobacco supply and consumption. The treaty covers tobacco taxation, smoking prevention and treatment, illicit trade, advertising, sponsorship and promotion, and product regulation. Oral health professionals and dental associations worldwide should consider this platform for their future work for tobacco prevention since in several countries they play an important role in communication with patients and communities. The WHO Oral Health Programme gives priority to tobacco control in many ways through the development of national and community programmes which incorporates oral health and tobacco issues, tobacco prevention through schools, tobacco risk assessment in countries, and design of modern surveillance systems on risk factors and oral health. Systematic evaluation of coordinated efforts should be carried out at country and inter-country levels.


The epidemic of tobacco use is one of the greatest threats to global health today. Approximately one-third of the adult population in the world use tobacco in some form and of whom half will die pre-maturely. According to the most recent estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO), 4.9 million people worldwide died in 2000 as a result of their addiction to nicotine (WHO, World Health Report, 2002). This huge death toll is rising rapidly, especially in low- and middle-income countries where most of the world’s 1.2 billion tobacco users live.

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