12 lakh cases of oral cancer in India in 2018: Why dental care is important

Oral disorders have affected a vast majority of Indians in the last three decades, yet the burden of dental diseases remains largely unnoticed.
12 lakh cases of oral cancer in India in 2018: Why dental care is important
12 lakh cases of oral cancer in India in 2018: Why dental care is important

Dental care and oral hygiene largely remains an undiscussed topic, with few people aware of the risks associated with poor dental hygiene. The National Oral Health Care Programme, which falls under the care of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), stated that despite the fact that several dental diseases have been burdening the country in the last three decades, little attention has been paid to tackling these issues. Tooth decay, dental caries, and periodontal diseases have been noted to be high among the Indian population, and yet oral care is ignored so often.

“When it comes to oral hygiene, very few people are aware of the basics. People still don’t know about the basic brushing practices, much less anything else. So when they do come to us, it’s usually when they are presenting with a larger problem,” explains Chennai-based dentist Dr Padma Alluri. She notes that with regard to oral cancers, very few people are aware of the symptoms.

In 2018, the National Institute of Cancer Prevention which falls under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), released a study that showed that oral cancer cases in India had spiked in a span of six years. The institute noted that around 12 lakh cases of cancer were reported across the country in 2018, rising from 10 lakh reported cases in 2012. Reports have stated that anywhere up to as much as 85% of the entire population is susceptible to a dental disease, with India being referred to as the world’s “capital” for oral cancers.

“Everyone has an idea that smoking causes cancer, but how often are people made aware of the fact that precancerous lesions can be detected early in oral cancers? If detected early, then we can treat early, but we need to raise more awareness about this,” she stresses.

A group of scientists in 2015 reviewed India’s National Oral Health Policy that was published. In that, the authors noted that following a detailed assessment and analysis of the instituted policies, the government should take more interest in the oral hygiene of citizens. “Indian government needs to set up a committee by involving dental professionals to plan to reduce the oral disease burden of the country in a more comprehensive and practical approach. Political, social, organizational (both government and nongovernmental), professional dedication and support are needed to make oral health of this country comparable with general health,” reads the conclusion of the report.

However, even after such studies, dental hygiene is often easily overlooked when speaking about public health issues.

Even though the government set up the National Oral Health Programme under the watch of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there has not been enough traction to highlight the burden of these diseases. The programme was constituted in 1998 in order to raise awareness against dental diseases through primary prevention centres and to implement more oral healthcare related policies into the public healthcare infrastructure. With the help of the Indian Dental Association (IDA), the Oral Health Policy was written and accepted in 1995, which sought to provide better dental healthcare services to the public. Despite such measures, dental experts note that people still largely view dental health as secondary and do not give it the same importance as other platforms of health.

“People don’t understand that diseases of the mouth can worsen and aggravate other aspects of health too. Gum disease and infection can easily travel via the bloodstream and worsen someone’s condition,” notes Dr Padma, as she explains the necessity for people to get regular check-ups with a dentist.

“Brush your teeth twice daily. Use a soft brush and brush gently in circles. Flossing is also a great way to keep your teeth clean too. People should go in for professional scaling as well. This plus reducing intake of soft drinks and sugars will also help keep teeth healthy.”

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