Regional kids oral health crisis

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A new report by Oral-B highlights the oral health inequalities suffered by children from regional areas, low-income families and of indigenous descent. The report found that children from regional areas have almost twice the number of untreated decayed teeth compared with children from major cities.

The report is collaboration between Dr David Manton of the Melbourne Dental School, Peter Wong from the Australasian Academy of Paediatric Dentistry, Professor Richard Widmer from the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Dr Susan Tregeagle from Barnardos Australia and Oral-B Dentist Dr Stephen Blatchford.

The authors found that as many as eight in 10 children fail to brush their teeth twice a day. Half have a routine in which they only brush their teeth once a day or less often. Thirty-three per cent have never seen a dentist, with many parents believing a dental visit is only required when the child has a specific problem. More than half (59 per cent) have experienced a dental problem such as a cavity or toothache by the age of 11; and half of all parents have delayed taking a child to the dentist for a check-up or treatment, with cost being the major barrier (37 per cent). This is a particular issue in low-income households with half of parents with a household income of $40,000 or less delaying taking their child to the dentist.

In rural locations, distance is a significant barrier to seeking immediate dental treatment or check-ups, with almost a quarter (24 per cent) of parents delaying a visit for this reason.

Dr Sabrina Manickam, a senior lecturer in dentistry with CSU, said she had routinely performed teeth extractions for children under five in her former role as clinical director of oral health services for the Greater Western Area Health Service.

She believed increasing the number of dentists, by educating students in rural areas, was the key to addressing poor oral health standards in regional children.

“Yes parents have a responsibility, but what do you do when you’re in Cobar and you don’t have a dentist for 200 kilometres?” she said.

Dr David Manton believes that parents’ oral health knowledge, attitude and behaviours could be partly responsible for some of these findings, “There is a common misconception among parents that an oral hygiene regime should begin only once their child reaches school age. Most of the children I’ve treated with significant oral health problems have been under the age of two,” he stated.

In response to these issues, the Oral-B Health Program is being launched with the aim of touching and educating one million people to help achieve healthier mouths for a healthier nation, while helping every Australian improve their oral health through access to services, education and good products. In its inaugural year, the OBHP will fund a grants program for children from regional areas so they can receive timely access to much needed dental services.

In addition, a mobile clinic tour launched on Monday 29 November, providing free check-ups to children and families in regional locations around the country. Any parent or carer of a child found to require dental work during the check-ups will be encouraged to apply for an Oral-B Health Program grant on their behalf.

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