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  • Writer's pictureGurher Sidhu

SDGs and Oral Health—A deadly oversight?

“GOOD HEALTH AND WELL-BEING”—this is Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set out by the UN in 2015.

This particular goal is one of 17, and it is an especially evocative one. Its specific targets address the following:

  • Reduced maternal mortality;

  • Ending preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5;

  • Ending AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other communicable diseases; strengthening prevention;

  • Halving the number of deaths and injuries resulting from road traffic accidents;

  • Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services;

  • 3.8: Achieving universal essential health coverage;

  • Reducing deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals;

  • Strengthening implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control;

  • Supporting R&D for vaccines for diseases affecting developing countries

  • Increasing retention of health workforce in developing countries

  • Strengthening capacity of all countries for early warning, risk reduction, management of national and global health risks


While these targets are highly important, there appears to be no specific mention of the importance of oral health and hygiene in the SDGs.

This is no small oversight—approximately 3.5 billion people globally are impacted by oral disease. Poor oral health, in turn, negatively impacts one’s ability to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle. Indeed, studies have shown that poor oral health contributes to poor self-esteem, to cardiovascular disease, and to a decreased ability to lead a healthy lifestyle. Clearly, a target focused on oral health promotion and access to dental care would be well within the jurisdiction of Goal 3 of the SDGs—good health and well-being.

One might argue that goals relating to access to dental care are encompassed in the mention of target 3.8: “Achieving universal access to healthcare”. Unfortunately, such a view is representative of an ideal that has not been universally achieved. We need not look far for an example. Case in point: Canada.

Our “home and native land”, which proudly wears its universal health coverage as a marker of distinction from the United States, does not include universal dental coverage in its system. Therefore, for a majority of Canadians, dental care remains a private responsibility.

In fact, 37.5% of Canadians—who did not have the luxury of employment with benefits/affordable insurance, but were not sufficiently impoverished to receive government assistance—had to pay out of pocket for any dental care they received in 2015. This cannot be taken lightly, as a 2018 Statistics Canada report shows that Canadians without dental care insurance are three times less likely to see a dental professional compared to their insured counterparts.

With this example in mind, it would be naive to suggest that target 3.8 in the UN SDGs is specific enough to address the greatly concerning gap in oral health across the world.

As the world approaches the half-way deadline for achieving the SDGs, world leaders will convene in New York on September 18-19, 2023, to “mark the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals…leading up to 2030”, and to “reignite a sense of hope, optimism, and enthusiasm for the 2030 Agenda”.

Therefore, it is a crucial time for us all to reflect on the SDGs—the progress which has been made, what still needs to be done, and what has been left unsaid.




The need for equitable access to oral health remains strong globally—and also within your community.

At TorontoTooth, we believe that everybody deserves the ability to do the most basic act of self-care—brushing their teeth. We aim to provide basic oral hygiene supplies to local youth experiencing homelessness. Your donation will go far in helping reduce oral hygiene inequity—and its scary side effects—in Toronto. Just $10 will help us to provide 4 youths with a dental hygiene kit. Please click on the link below to learn more.




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