Oral Health Gets Good News and Bad News in Australia

Dentistry Today
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There’s good news and bad news when it comes to oral health Down Under, according to the Australian Dental Association and its third National Study on Oral Health.

“The good news is that looking back to the last survey, conducted 12 years ago, the number of people completely edentulous, without any natural teeth, has reduced to 4%, which is a remarkable achievement,” said Marco Peres, PhD, of the National Research Institute Singapore and Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore.

More good news is that nearly 90% of our population is covered by water fluoridation, and there is a huge percentage of the population brushing with fluoridated toothpaste,” said Peres, who also reports that the proportion of people who smoke has decreased over time.

However, not all of the trends have been positive, Peres said.

“We have increasing periodontal disease, which is a consequence of aging people and also an increased number of people with more natural teeth, which is a paradox, because if you have more people with natural teeth, of course you have more people with periodontal disease,” Peres said.

“Also not good news is that the percentage of people who avoided or didn’t have the opportunity to access dental care remained unchanged, and this is huge for those people in vulnerable populations, which means those with lower income, lower educational attainment, and also indigenous people,” he said.

“There was a remarkable difference depending on dental care access regarding geographic locations. Those people living in remote and rural areas are less likely to access dental care. And also the proportion of people who avoided dental care due to financial situations remained almost the same as the last survey,” said Peres.

“Social inequality in health and science means those people from low income, low educational backgrounds, socially vulnerable people, tend to have more oral disease and have less access to dental care. This is a big issue, and it will be made even worse due to COVID-19, given that most dental offices were closed for a certain period of time,” he said.

The social inequities could become wider, Peres said, and there will be more people facing difficulties.

“The consequences of COVID-19 will be seen well into the future,” he said.

Another issue that is very political and needs to be discussed as a country is the inclusion of dental care in the Medicare system, he said.

“There is no biological or clinical explanation for these kinds of divisions. Dental care should be covered as part of Medicare. In other words, please put the mouth into the body,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Australian Dental Association offers additional figures about the current state of oral health in the country derived from its Oral Health Tracker, produced in collaboration with the Mitchell Institute. For example:

  • 47.8% of all adults consume too much sugar.
  • 32.1% of adults have untreated tooth decay, compared to 20% the last time it was measured.
  • 30% of children age 5 and 6 have decay in their baby teeth.
  • 40% of children have tooth decay in their adult teeth by the ages of 12 to 14.
  • Only 53% of the population cleans their teeth twice a day.

The Australian Dental Association attributes many of these figures to the nation’s addiction to sugar, which is frequently added to or hidden in food and beverages, it said.

“Excessive sugar consumption is having a hugely detrimental effect on kids’ and adults’ teeth, and this has been going on for decades. It’s time we took decisive, affirmative action to empower consumers,” said the organization’s oral health promoter, Dr. Mikaela Chinotti.

The Australian Dental Association spotlighted sugar’s effects on oral health as part of its Dental Health Week 2020 campaign, August 3 through August 9.

“For Dental Health Week, the ADA wants to drive the message to consumers that the best way not to be confused or misguided by hidden (or added) sugars in the food and drinks we buy is to educate ourselves,” Chinotti said.

“One way of doing this is reading food and drink labels and knowing what is in the items you are consuming so we make healthy decisions at the checkout,” she said. 

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