Children in poorest areas have more decay

Half as much brushing, twice as many caries.

Young children from the lowest socioeconomic areas have about 70 per cent more dental decay than children from the highest socioeconomic areas, according to a report released this week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
 The report, Dental decay among Australian children, shows poorer oral health in disadvantaged areas across all states and territories (for which data were available) although the extent was varied.

“Of children aged 5–6 years in Western Australia, dental decay was 22 per cent higher for children in the lowest socioeconomic areas than for those in the highest socioeconomic areas, while in the Northern Territory the difference was a much greater 139 per cent,” said AIHW spokesperson Professor Kaye Roberts-Thomson.
New South Wales and Victoria were not included in the report as data were unavailable.

Among children aged 5–6 years, nearly half had a history of dental decay in the deciduous teeth (also known as baby teeth) and the average number of decayed, missing and filled teeth was two.
Of children aged 12 years, nearly half had a history of dental decay in the permanent teeth and the average number of decayed, missing and filled teeth was 1.1.

“More than 40 per cent of Australian children aged 5–6 years had untreated decay and a quarter of Australian children aged 12 years had untreated decay,” Professor Roberts-Thomson said.
The proportion of children aged 5–6 years with untreated decay varied among states and territories from 29.3 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory to 49.7 per cent in the Northern Territory.
There was no difference in prevalence of decay between boys and girls.

A second report released at the same time, Changes in child toothbrushing over time, shows that while toothbrushing is almost universally practised in Australia, there has been a decline in toothbrushing frequency among children.

Between 1993 and 2000, the proportion of children brushing less than once a day when they began brushing their teeth almost doubled from 8 per cent to 15 per cent. The proportion brushing twice a day reduced from a high of 44 per cent in 1993 to 32 per cent in 2000.

The proportion of children brushing with low-fluoride children’s toothpaste, as is recommended for children aged 6 years or under, has increased. Most young children now use low-fluoride toothpaste.

To find out more go to the Australian institute for Health and Welfare website.


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  1. Public Health Dentistry may well shudder on such survey results. If access to preventative care is limited by ineffective/inadequate oral health education there is gross failure of our system. If limited resources deny early remedial treatment there is again strong evidence of a two speed service favouring those with better socio-economic environment. Surely, this must be condemned.


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