Australian Oral Health Getting Worse

Dentistry Today


The increasing prevalence of tooth decay and gum disease among Australian adults are disturbing new trends in the nation’s oral health, according to the Australian Dental Association (ADA).

While adults in Australia are keeping their teeth longer, one in three has untreated tooth decay and one in four has periodontal disease with periodontal pockets of 4 mm or deeper, according to the Adult Oral Health Tracker

The Tracker sets targets for a reduction in the prevalence of these conditions as well as 12 other risk factors. It is a product of the ADA in partnership with the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC).

“The Oral Health Tracker 2020 is a progress report that provides an update on how Australian adults’ oral health is tracking compared to the previous results in 2018 and compared to the targets for 2025,” said ADA oral health advisor Dr. Mikaela Chinotti.

“The results are in, and for gum disease and tooth decay, they’re not good,” said Chinotti. “These conditions are largely preventable, yet they’ve increased in prevalence and we continue to get further away from our goal of improving Australia’s overall oral health. 

According to the Tracker:

  • The number of adults with untreated and potentially painful tooth decay has increased sizably from a quarter of adults to about a third of adults (25.5% to 32.1%).
  • Adults with periodontal pockets equal to or greater than 4 mm, which can lead to tooth loss, increased from 19.8% to 28.8%. 
  • Adults reporting toothache in the last 12 months went up by one quarter, from 16.2% in 2018 to 20.2% in 2020. 
  • 48.8% of adults surveyed had visited a dentist for a checkup within the previous 12 months, which was a drop of 6.7% compared to the first Tracker.
  • 52% of adults brush twice a day, which is a 2% improvement over 2018.
  • The number of adults with less than 21 teeth dropped from 15.5% to 10.2%.
  • Rates of oral cancers remained almost static at 10.3 people per 100,000.

“We’ve reached our set target for the number of adults with fewer than 21 teeth. This shows that Australians are keeping their teeth for longer,” said Chinotti. 

“But at the same time, we’re seeing more disease. For tooth decay and gum disease, we need to be targeting the causes, like poor oral hygiene and free sugar consumption,” said Chinotti. 

“For many Australian’s free sugar consumption is still well above the WHO’s recommended 6 teaspoons (24 grams) a day limit, and this is affecting quality of life by causing tooth decay,” said Chinotti. 

“Not only do individual behaviors need to change, but so too do government policies affecting oral health,” said Chinotti. “An example of this is the introduction of a levy on sugar-sweetened beverages, which the ADA would like to see.” 

Throughout 2020, the ADA says it will execute strategies designed to improve the nation’s oral health by spotlighting sugar.

It will lobby the government to create a levy on sugar-sweetened beverages, the ADA says, educate people about the harm sugar does to teeth as well as how they can better interpret food labels and understand where hidden sugars lurk, and offer recommendations for low-sugar food options for shoppers.

Continuing the celebration of World Oral Health Day 2020 on March 20, the ADA is asking people to #uniteformouthhealth by making a pledge to better care for their oral health.

“Australians are asked to pledge, starting this year, how they will take that first step in making their oral health a priority,” Chinotti said.

“This could include visiting the dentist, becoming sugar savvy by understanding ways to reduce their free sugar intake, or making a conscious effort to brush using fluoride toothpaste twice a day in a bid to reverse the negative trends identified in the 2020 Oral Health Tracker,” Chinotti said.

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