Topical Treatment Combination Reduces Tooth Decay Among Indigenous Children

Dentistry Today


A combination of preventive treatments reduced tooth decay and improved the quality of life for more than 200 Indigenous Australian children living in remote Queensland, and the intervention was especially effective in reducing severe tooth decay, according to a joint research project involving four dental schools in Australia.

“Children who had the health preventative procedures experienced fewer instances of severe new tooth decay compared to children who didn’t receive treatment,” said associate professor Ratilal Lalloo of the University of Queensland School of Dentistry.

“Access to dental services in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is extremely limited and therefore prevention of tooth decay is critical to address this significant health burden,” Lalloo said. “Tooth decay can affect overall health and nutrition, self-esteem, and it can increase the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease.”

Indigenous children in rural Australia have up to three times the rate of tooth decay compared to other Australian children, the universities’ researchers said. And among those with the most severe decay, the researchers added, the difference is tenfold.

Study participants had existing tooth decay treated, followed by the preventive program comprising dental sealants on vulnerable teeth, fluoride varnish, and topical disinfectant that reduces bad bacteria and lets good bacteria take over.

The study showed that the combination of topical treatments substantially improved the oral health and quality of life of the children, according to Emeritus Professor Newell Johnson of Griffith University’s School of Dentistry and Oral Health.

“The oral health professionals fly in/fly out model we used in the study is a cost-effective way of delivering the program,” said Johnson. “Primary healthcare workers such as community nurses and Aboriginal health workers can be trained to do these treatments, making them even more cost-effective.”

Children were seen every year for three years to inspect their teeth and to apply the preventive intervention again.

Lalloo said the researchers hoped the findings would lead to evidence-based policies and practices in preventing tooth decay in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.

“It is critical the consumption of easily accessible sugar-laden products such as soft drinks is reduced, we encourage the Queensland government to consider making water fluoridation mandatory, and to support remote, rural, and regional local councils to implement these proven preventive measures,” Lalloo said.

The research is part of a larger collaborative study funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia grant awarded to Griffith University involving researchers from the University of Adelaide, James Cook University, and the University of Queensland.

The study, “Carious Lesions in Permanent Dentitions Are Reduced in Remote Indigenous Australian Children Taking Part in a Non-Randomized Preventive Trial,” was published by PLOS One.

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