The role of human rights law in preventing oral NCDs: states' imperative to regulate the cariogenic (living) environment
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Joint Research Center, European Commission, Italy
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands
Publication date: 2023-04-27
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A1453
Background and Objective: Protecting oral health is of increasing concern: 3.5 billion people worldwide suffer from oral non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Consensus has emerged that strategies must bypass individual responsibility and further systemic policies. The World Health Organization has recently adopted a Global Strategy on Oral Health, recognizing the fundamental right to oral health. Although previous research clarified the importance of human rights law in NCD prevention, the content of the right to oral health and the benefits of a rights-based approach for oral health remain unclarified. Methods: Our methodology is firmly grounded in public health legal research. To identify the content of the right to oral health and the resulting State obligations, we conducted legal doctrinal research integrating dental sciences. First, we established the subject of regulation, namely behavioural risk factors of poor oral health. Subsequently, we signalled and interpreted relevant human rights law provisions. The Findings, namely the State obligations, were tested in light of available knowledge in the field of dentistry. Results: Human rights treaties create legal obligations for States vis-à-vis individuals. The right to health is central and offers a framework for a comprehensive oral health strategy, covering both the underlying determinants of health and the healthcare system. The behavioural risk factors of poor oral health, including sugars ingestion, hygiene practices, fluoride exposure and dental attendance, have clear human rights dimensions: States must ensure access to essential medicines including fluoride, nudge individuals into healthy behaviour, and provide for an economically accessible healthcare system: omissions in these areas can amount to violations of human rights. Conclusions: The right to oral health and the incorporation of human rights law in international and domestic strategies on oral health is a promising tool to further upstream policies, ensure equal oral health protection and hold governments accountable for lacking such strategies.