The financial impact of neglecting oral health goes beyond the immediate costs of dental treatments, unveiling hidden expenses that affect both individual finances and the broader economic landscape. In this essay, I will discuss some of the primary hidden costs of oral health neglect and how preventive oral care can be a cost-effective investment for individuals and society.
One of the primary hidden costs lies in emergency dental treatments. When routine dental care is neglected, minor issues can escalate into more severe problems that necessitate immediate attention, often resulting in higher treatment costs. For example, according to the WHO Global Oral Health Status Report (2022), the average cost of emergency dental care per person per year in low- and middle-income countries was US$ 6.4 in 2019. This amount may not seem significant, but it can represent a substantial burden for people living in poverty or without health insurance.
Furthermore, the neglect of oral health can have a cascading effect on overall well-being. Oral health is intricately linked to systemic health, and untreated dental issues may contribute to or exacerbate various medical conditions. This, in turn, leads to increased medical expenses, creating a ripple effect on an individual’s healthcare costs. For instance, periodontal disease, a common oral condition affecting the tissues that surround and support the teeth, has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, and adverse pregnancy outcomes⁵. These conditions can have serious health consequences and require costly medical interventions.
The impact of oral health neglect extends to productivity in the workplace. Dental problems, especially those causing pain or discomfort, can result in missed workdays and decreased productivity. Employers may also bear the indirect costs associated with reduced workforce efficiency and the need for employees to take time off for dental appointments or recovery from treatments. According to the WHO, oral diseases resulted in an estimated 141 million lost workdays and 7.4 billion lost school days globally in 2019⁴. These losses can have negative implications for economic growth and development.
Additionally, neglecting oral health can lead to a diminished quality of life, affecting an individual’s ability to enjoy daily activities and maintain social connections. The emotional toll of dental issues, such as embarrassment or self-consciousness about one’s smile, can contribute to decreased overall well-being and potentially lead to indirect costs associated with mental health care or reduced social engagement. Oral health is also an important factor for maintaining a healthy diet and nutrition, as dental problems can limit the ability to chew and swallow food properly.
From a societal perspective, the collective impact of oral health neglect results in a significant economic burden. Increased demand for emergency dental care, additional medical expenses, and decreased workplace productivity collectively contribute to higher healthcare costs and potential strain on public health resources. The WHO estimated that the global direct and indirect costs of oral diseases amounted to US$ 382 billion in 2019⁴. This figure represents a substantial loss of resources that could be otherwise invested in other areas of social and economic development.
Preventive oral care, including regular dental check-ups and cleanings, is a cost-effective investment that can mitigate these hidden expenses. By addressing dental issues in their early stages, individuals can avoid the need for emergency treatments, reduce the risk of associated health problems, and maintain overall well-being. The long-term financial benefits of preventive oral care extend not only to individuals but also to employers, healthcare systems, and society as a whole. Prioritizing oral health emerges not just as a matter of personal well-being but as a strategic approach to curbing hidden costs and fostering a healthier, more economically sustainable future.
In conclusion, oral health neglect has far-reaching consequences that go beyond the immediate costs of dental treatments. It can lead to hidden costs that affect individual finances, health, productivity, and quality of life, as well as the broader economic landscape. Preventive oral care can help prevent these costs and improve the well-being of individuals and society. Therefore, it is essential to raise awareness of the importance of oral health and to ensure access to affordable and quality oral health care services for everyone.
(2) Oral health.