Australia fails its oral health check-up

Australia's oral health

Copyright: wissanustock / 123RF Stock Photo

Today is World Oral Health Day—and to mark the occasion, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC) at Victoria University have released their national oral health report card revealing that more than 90 per cent of Australian adults have experienced decay in their permanent teeth.

Among the findings of Australia’s Oral Health Tracker (the latest report in the Australia’s Health Tracker series) are:

  • Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in Australia.
  • Three out of four children and young people are consuming too much sugar.
  • Only 51 per cent of Australian adults brush their teeth the recommended twice a day.
  • Risky drinking and smoking contribute to poor oral health.

“The evidence shows that one-third of Australia’s five to six-year-olds have had decay in their baby teeth,” ADA federal president Dr Hugo Sachs said. “This is an unacceptably high rate and puts these children at risk of poor oral health in their development and adult years.”

Too much sugar, regular drinking and smoking not only impacts on oral health, but is also linked to preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Australia’s Oral Health Tracker has been developed by Australia’s leading dental academics, researchers, clinicians, policy and public health experts. It sets targets for improving the oral health of children, young people and adults by the year 2025—in line with the World Health Organization’s targets for global prevention and reduction in chronic diseases.

“Australia’s Oral Health Tracker highlights the remarkable cost of poor oral health to individuals and to the health budget,” AHPC director Professor Rosemary Calder said.

“In 2015-16, there were 67,266 potentially preventable hospitalisations for oral health problems and almost one-third of these were children under the age of nine years. Worryingly, there’s a growing number of children in this age group who are being admitted to hospital for dental health reasons.”

“Preventable hospital admissions are of concern to all governments,” Professor Calder continued. “One in 10 preventable admissions are due to dental conditions, mostly untreated tooth decay.”

Australia’s Oral Health Tracker has set a target of a 10 per cent reduction in the proportion of children needing hospital care because of their dental health.

“Poor oral health in childhood is a predictor of disease in adulthood,” Dr Sachs said. “Australia needs to recognise that oral health care is part of good health care, and that access to dental care is a significant contributor to good oral and physical health.”

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  1. Australia’s unnecessarily high dental fees mean that access to basic dental care is inequitable and remains unaffordable for most Australians. If more than 70% of Australia has artificially fluoridated drinking water [to supposedly reduce tooth decay] then why have “more than 90 per cent of Australian adults experienced decay in their permanent teeth”?

  2. consumer- because people aren’t brushing their teeth enough and eating too much sugar as the study states. Fluoride helps protect against decay but it can only do so much.

    If you don’t exercise and eat well you get fat, do you see fat people blaming the fees of nutritionists on rising levels of obesity?

    • If Australian dental business fees were affordable then “untreated dental decay” might have been prevented or more readily treated and there would be “access to dental care” for all. According to the NHMRC ‘Draft Information Paper on Effects of water fluoridation…’ (Sept 2016, p.22): “water fluoridation can prevent tooth decay for large numbers of people without individuals needing to change their behaviour”. Has it? Obviously a low sugar diet is a key variable in prevention for the vast majority.

  3. Low sugar diets definitely are a key variable, fluoridation alone does not protect against decay. Plaque grows by metabolizing sugars and produces demineralizing acids. Fluoride reduces dissolution of enamel by forming hydroxyfluroapatite and CaF which reduces demineralization when pH increases in the mouth.

    The best protection against decay, is to brush your teeth, removing the biofilm of plaque covering your teeth prevents maturation and development of colonies which are capable of shifting the ecological balance adjacent to enamel towards demineralization.


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