Professor Anders Gustafsson, Vice President, Karolinska Institute
Professor Bodil Lund, Head of Department of Dental Medicine, Karolinska Institute
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 I am pleased to join you this afternoon at the opening of the inaugural International Oral Health Symposium. I am delighted that many speakers and esteemed guests hail from around the globe which includes Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Sweden.
2 The theme for this year’s symposium – “Innovation, Strategy and Future Perspectives” – most aptly sets the stage in facilitating discussion of research, innovation and developments in oral health, and fostering greater international collaborations and exchanges. It also provides a vibrant space for aspiring and up-and-coming scientists to share ideas, as well as explore technological advancements that would shape the future of dentistry.
Global Oral Health
3 Oral health is an important component of one’s overall health and well-being. Yet, oral health remains a major, neglected global population health challenge. The Global Burden of Disease 2019 study estimated oral diseases to affect approximately 3.5 billion people worldwide – with untreated dental caries being the most prevalent health condition, and periodontal disease being the sixth most prevalent. In terms of economic burden, oral diseases, while largely preventable, ranked fourth among all diseases.
4 With serious health and economic burdens that can greatly reduce the quality of life for those affected, there is a need to look at early interventions and better treatments for improved oral health outcomes.
5 Healthier mouths mean healthier people. And healthier people mean stronger communities. Therein lies an important lesson in oral healthcare, especially with the increasing evidence suggesting a strong link between oral health and systemic health.
6 In 2021, the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly approved a Resolution on oral health. It recommends a shift from the traditional curative approach towards a preventative approach that includes the promotion of oral health within the family, schools and workplaces, involving timely, comprehensive and inclusive care within the primary healthcare system.
Moving Healthcare Upstream for Population Health in Singapore
7 In Singapore, the Ministry of Health announced the Healthier SG strategy at our Committee of Supply Debate 2022, to embark on a life-course approach focused on improving population health outcomes to keep Singaporeans healthy for as long as possible in a safe and sustainable manner. A key area is the upstream preventive efforts to promote overall healthy living.
8 As we tackle the challenges of a growing ageing population, there is a need to place more emphasis on preventive health, including preventive oral health.
9 The 2019/2020 National Adult Oral Health Survey showed that approximately 85% of the surveyed community-dwelling adult population in Singapore have 21 or more natural teeth. This decreases with age, with about 35% of those aged 65 and older having 21 or more natural teeth.
10 The National Dental Centre Singapore’s ‘Oral Health Movement (OHM) 8020’ is one example of a preventive intervention programme targeting oral frailty of older adults. The OHM 8020 is intended to help Singaporeans aged 40 and above retain at least 20 of their natural teeth beyond the age of 80.
Importance of Advancing Oral Health Research
11 Oral health research is another essential foundation upstream to keep our population healthy. This allows for multi- and inter-disciplinary collaborative relationships, paves the way for innovative solutions, and provides key insights into population oral health trends.
12 There have been several developments and innovations in oral health research by our local institutions.
13 In the area of oral medical technologies. Our researchers have created the next generation jaw implant scaffold that reduces the need for complex bone harvesting processes and simplifies future dental procedures and applications, thus leading to shorter surgical procedures and faster recovery for patients.
14 We are also now able to use of three-dimensional printing technologies for dental prostheses, replacing conventional, labour-intensive methods, and thereby enable greater productivity and cost-effectiveness, faster turnaround time and better patient experience.
15 Oral health surveillance studies are also being conducted to understand the oral health needs of the population and how oral diseases impact daily living in Singapore. This data can be harnessed to develop risk prediction tools and help design population-level interventions to prevent oral diseases. The aim is to provide a strong evidence base for alternatives to the traditional curative model of oral healthcare, tailored to the needs and life stages of the population.
16 These collective research efforts are part of the Singapore Government’s commitment to support innovation and continued efforts for better population health outcomes. Overall advancements in healthcare and improvements in the healthcare delivery system are complementary strategic initiatives to strengthen healthcare capabilities both locally and internationally.
17 Today’s International Oral Health Symposium is both a formalisation and a step-up in the relationship between Karolinska Institute, National Dental Centre Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Tohoku University, The University of Hong Kong and University of Melbourne.
18 I encourage you to take this opportunity to build on the momentum of innovation and collaboration within the oral health community to revolutionise oral healthcare for the future.
19 In closing, I wish everyone a fruitful and stimulating learning experience over the next two days. I hope that you will benefit from the opportunity to network, exchange ideas, and channel these new inspirations to create future perspectives and strategies leading to good oral health for good overall health.
20 Thank you.