Chronic diseases and injuries are the leading health problems in all but a few parts of the world. The rapidly changing disease patterns throughout the world are closely linked to changing lifestyles, which include diets rich in sugars, widespread use of tobacco, and increased consumption of alcohol. In addition to socio-environmental determinants, oral disease is highly related to these lifestyle factors, which are risks to most chronic diseases as well as protective factors such as appropriate exposure to fluoride and good oral hygiene. Oral diseases qualify as major public health problems owing to their high prevalence and incidence in all regions of the world, and as for all diseases, the greatest burden of oral diseases is on disadvantaged and socially marginalized populations. The severe impact in terms of pain and suffering, impairment of function and effect on quality of life must also be considered. Traditional treatment of oral diseases is extremely costly in several industrialized countries, and not feasible in most low-income and middle-income countries. The WHO Global Strategy for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, added to the common risk factor approach is a new strategy for managing prevention and control of oral diseases. The WHO Oral Health Programme has also strengthened its work for improved oral health globally through links with other technical programmes within the Department for Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The current oral health situation and development trends at global level are described and WHO strategies and approaches for better oral health in the 21st century are outlined.