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Colgate-Palmolive VP: Oral disease is a ‘global health crisis’ that needs attention

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 520 million children worldwide suffer with caries in primary teeth, with various oral diseases affecting a total of almost 3.5 billion people globally [Getty Images]
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 520 million children worldwide suffer with caries in primary teeth, with various oral diseases affecting a total of almost 3.5 billion people globally [Getty Images]

Related tags: Colgate-palmolive, Oral care, oral health, Oral hygiene, tooth decay, Toothpaste, Mouthwash, WHO

Consumers worldwide do not fully understand the importance of maintaining good oral health and how this links to systemic health and wellbeing – something Colgate-Palmolive wants to change via a major education programme, its VP and chief clinical officer says.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), oral diseases affected nearly 3.5 billion people globally​ – almost half the current world population. Within this, untreated dental caries or tooth decay was the most common oral health condition, affecting an estimated two billion people; 520 million of these children with caries of primary teeth. WHO said many oral diseases were “largely preventable”​ and could be treated in early stages, with adequate exposure to fluoride being “an essential factor”​ to prevention of disease onset, among other measures.

WHO was now drafting its global strategy on tackling oral diseases, set to be finalised by 2023, following the World Health Assembly approving a Resolution on oral health in January 2021​ that recommended a shift from the “traditional curative approach” ​towards a “preventative approach”. ​Recommendations under the Resolution included promotion of oral health within family, schools and workplaces and “timely, comprehensive and inclusive care within the primary health-care system”.

In the meantime, oral health care brands worldwide had continued with innovation and research plans and last month Colgate-Palmolive launched a global consumer education programme as part of its €91m ($100m) five-year oral health commitment.

There’s a ‘major information gap’ in oral health understanding

Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Dr Maria Ryan, VP and chief clinical officer at Colgate-Palmolive, said this investment was critical given how research consistently showed oral health was a window to overall health and wellbeing. “What many people don’t realise is that the consequences of tooth decay and gum disease reach far beyond our mouths and are linked to physical health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, as well as mental health and emotional wellbeing,”​ Ryan said.

Dr Maria Ryan, VP and chief clinical officer at Colgate-Palmolive
Dr Maria Ryan, VP and chief clinical officer at Colgate-Palmolive

Despite widespread and ongoing research proving this, she said there remained a “major information gap and lack of understanding” ​about the importance of oral health worldwide, with oral health literacy still very low across the globe.

Whilst many people knew how to maintain good oral health, few had been told why, she said – “there is a massive opportunity to close the information gap”.

“…Oral disease is a global health crisis that has far-reaching and significant impacts: childhood cavities lead to worry, anxiety and sadness in both kids and their parents; and gum disease also increases the risk for other conditions, including respiratory diseases, heart attacks and strokes, while making control of diabetes difficult,”​ she said.

Oral disease prevention – ‘we have a real opportunity’

However, Ryan reiterated that many of these oral diseases were largely preventable via proven, preventative oral hygiene strategies like brushing for two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day, flossing daily and using mouthwash as directed.

Many oral diseases are preventable, with consistent oral care routines an important part [Getty Images]
Many oral diseases are preventable, with consistent oral care routines an important part [Getty Images]

“Once people understand the connection between oral health and overall health (…) they will be well on their way toward a healthier future, free of oral disease.”

As the leading oral care brand globally – with Colgate being the most-chosen beauty and personal care brand in the world in 2021 according to Kanter Worldpanel’s Brand Footprint​ – Ryan said the company was well placed to educate and create change.

“With our Colgate brand in more homes than any other, we have a real opportunity to improve on oral health literacy and to make major strides towards addressing this global health crisis. We have the power, team, partners, innovations and motivation to fulfil our company’s purpose: reimagining a healthier future for all,”​ she said.

Under its five-year oral health commitment, Colgate-Palmolive was rolling out a ‘Know Your OQ’ campaign to empower people to better understand their oral health quotient, much like they may already know their IQ or EQ measuring cognitive and emotionally intelligence. Via a dedicated website, consumers were able to take a free, interactive assessment for an OQ score. Colgate-Palmolive was also making an array of informative and educational resources available online.

“The ‘Know Your OQ website is part of our consumer education campaign, which makes oral health compelling and digestible, and offers a great first step for people to learn about oral health and why it’s so important for their overall health,”​ Ryan said.

A healthy mouth – clinical studies, innovative NPD and connected technologies

Extensive research has shown, and continues to show, the importance of oral care on wider systemic health [Getty Images]
Extensive research has shown, and continues to show, the importance of oral care on wider systemic health [Getty Images]

“…There is a huge opportunity to help people understand that a healthier future starts with a healthy mouth,” ​she said. “We just need to spread the word. Oral health education initiatives like ‘Know your OQ’ are essential for helping people understand how to gain control over their wellbeing through proper oral care.”

Colgate-Palmolive would also continue ongoing research efforts under the commitment, including its clinical research investigating the link between oral health and systemic human health conditions​ in partnership with Verily Life Sciences. The company would also push ahead with product innovations and advances in connected health technologies, Ryan said, such as its hum by Colgate smart toothbrush.

Connected technologies like this, she said, would be a “game changer”​ in empowering consumers with feedback on oral health care routines and a key part of shaping the future. “We recognise that these smart toothbrushes improve oral hygiene above and beyond what we have been able to achieve in the past and we have worked diligently to democratise these new innovations to make them accessible for people throughout the world.”

Related topics: Market Trends, Voice of the Industry

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