Paediatricians and dentists combine to further child oral health

The RACP says all health professionals dealing with children should have training in oral health.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (RACDS) have called for the elevation of oral health awareness in the training of all health professionals who work with children and young people.

While the RACP Paediatric & Child Health Division (P&CHD) and the RACDS have welcomed the much-needed injection of $2.7 billion into child oral health to help thousands of disadvantaged Australian children, due to come into effect from 1 January 2014, immediate action can be taken by healthcare professionals to improve child oral health.

Addressing oral health in children and young people can significantly improve lifelong oral health, which is a key determinant of health and wellbeing throughout the life of the individual, according to Associate Professor Sharon Goldfeld, Chair of the P&CHD Paediatric Oral Health Working Group.

“Very few infants see dentists specifically, so dental therapists and oral health therapists in conjunction with non-dental healthcare professionals, such as paediatricians and general practitioners, must be proactive in promoting good child oral health,” Associate Professor Goldfeld said.

“Integrating awareness of oral health into training for paediatricians and other health practitioners who work with children is an important step that can improve early intervention and supports prevention strategies, particularly in vulnerable populations, such as Indigenous communities and those in remote and rural areas.”

Untreated dental decay, as well as causing pain and infection, can affect general health in terms of nutritional status and growth.

Poor oral health may also be associated with issues such as sleep disturbance and poor concentration, and other behavioural impacts, according to Associate Professor Goldfeld.

Untreated dental decay in 15 to 24 year-olds accounts for 25 per cent of the disease experience in this age group. Furthermore, 18.5 per cent of 15 to 24 year-olds have at least one tooth missing due to dental disease.

According to RACDS President Dr Werner Bischof, paediatric oral health is one of the areas of greatest health inequity in Australia and New Zealand.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and children living in rural and regional areas are more likely to have tooth decay, have less frequent check-ups and have fewer preventive treatments compared to children living in urban areas,” Dr Bischof said.

“Similarly, a higher proportion of Maori and Pacific Island children have a higher rate and severity of dental carries compared with other children in New Zealand.

“Dental infrastructure and workforce expansion in outer metropolitan and regional and rural areas is also needed to address the geographic, financial and cultural barriers to accessing services.”

The RACP and the RACDS, through their Child Oral Health Statement, have called for oral health awareness in the training of all health professionals who work with children.

Collaborative public health approaches have also been identified, including healthcare professional training and public water fluoridation for all communities with populations greater than 1,000 people. The RACP and RACDS intend to partner around many of these issues to effect more positive outcomes on the oral health of children and young people.


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  1. The potential to be healthy – physically, emotionally and mentally can be destroyed by lack of education in oral health awareness. Some passion in addressing “one of the areas of greatest health inequity in Australia and New Zealand” is surely demanded of all health professionals. Sleep disturbance, poor concentration and other behavioural impacts must be seen in the context of destroying quality of life, for not just that individual, but for whole communities of our fellow humans. Mechanistic approaches such as fluoridation are limited in value compared to improved healthcare professional training.


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