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Public Health Supporting Your Practice

Dental Preparations Included on WHO Model List of Essential Medicines

The Model List of Essential Medicines, first published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1977, is a list containing medications considered to be most effective in responding to the priority needs of populations. The list only contains medicines that cover diseases with a high prevalence and a public health relevance. An expert committee reviews the components regularly and the list is updated every two years. All medications included must be efficient, safe and cost effective.

In September 2021, 3 dental preparations were added to the list for the first time under a new section dedicated to oral health: Fluoride Toothpaste (1,000-1,500 ppm fluoride), Glass Ionomer Cement, and Silver Diamine Fluoride.

In the video below, Dr. Habib Benzian, Co-Director at the WHO Collaborating Center for Quality Improvement and Evidence-Based Dentistry at New York University, explains what it means for a medicine to be included on the list of essential medicines, and outlines the implications of this development for dentistry as a profession.

“The inclusion of these preparations on the list is a recognition that oral health matters and that oral diseases are public health problems on a global scale.”


Dr. Habib Benzian



    • The WHO Essential medicines list contains medicines that cover diseases with high prevalence and a public health relevance.
    • The list provides guidance to countries and authorities in alignment with their disease burden. Currently, 137 countries have national lists that are built on the model of the WHO list.
    • All medications listed must be available at all times in a functioning health care system and governments must prioritize their availability at a sufficient quality and at a price that is affordable. This is particularly important in lower and middle-income countries and in areas where resources are scarce.
    • The new section for dental preparations includes fluoride toothpaste (1,000 – 1,500 ppm fluoride), glass ionomer cement, and silver diamine fluoride. The inclusion of these preparations is a recognition that oral health matters and that oral diseases are public health problems of a global scale. On a more practical note, the inclusion is important because it will increase the availability and quality of these three dental preparations, hopefully lower the price, and promote their use and uptake and therefore promote oral health.
    • Although some other vehicles of fluoride delivery may be included on the list in the future (such as varnish, mouth rinses etc.), it is unlikely that there will be many other additions to the dental section of the list. This is because most preparations used in dentistry are medical products rather than medications. However, there are certain medications, such as antibiotics, where oral health indications may be listed in the future.


Watch the Conversation (8'28")


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