In 2008, 11% of Australian adults said their oral health was “excellent” while 21% rated their oral health as fair or poor. A quarter of adults over the age of 45 rated their oral health as fair or poor.[1]

Visits to the dentist

Australian adults’ visiting patterns show that:

  • 39% of adults have favourable visiting patterns (usually visit the same dentist once per year for a check-up);
  • 29% of adults have unfavourable visiting patterns (visit infrequently and usually for a problem); and
  • 32% of adults have a mixed visiting pattern.

Adults who have a favourable visiting pattern generally have better oral health while those with unfavourable visiting patterns tend to have poorer oral health.

Adults with unfavourable visiting patterns are half as likely to receive preventive treatment and four times more likely to have teeth extracted than those who visit dentists every year.[2]

The visiting patterns are linked to household income. Only 16.2% of high income households have unfavourable visiting patterns, compared to 43.7% of low income households.[3] However, unfavourable visiting patterns lead to a risk of poor oral health, regardless of income[4].

People with private health insurance are 1.5 times more likely to have visited a dentist in the previous 12 months.

70% of people with private health insurance were likely to visit for a check‐up compared to 43.2% of uninsured people.[5]

Tooth loss

The 2004‐06 National Survey of Adult Oral Health showed that 6.4% of the Australian population had lost all of their teeth. Complete tooth loss is far more common in current older Australians.  Due to the reduced rate of tooth loss in younger generations which is expected to persist as they age, the rate of complete tooth loss in the Australian population is projected to reduce to 3.1% by 2021 and just 1.0% by 2041.[6]

Of all adults eligible for public dental care, 17% had lost all their teeth, compared to 2.7% for those who were ineligible. There was little difference in complete tooth loss between Indigenous and non‐Indigenous Australians.[7]

Periodontitis

Periodontitis is an inflammation of the tissues around the tooth which affects the gum, ligaments and bone.  It is caused by bacterial infection and arises from the build up of dental plaque due to inadequate dental hygiene.  The severity of inflammation associated with periodontitis can be influenced by a person’s general health and habits, e.g. smoking and diabetes, which are associated with higher risk of periodontitis development.

22.9% of Australians have moderate or severe periodontitis (gum disease). The prevalence increases with age.[8]  People who usually visit the dentist from a check-up are less likely to have periodontitis than those who visit when they have a problem.  People without dental insurance and those on low incomes have higher rates of periodontitis.

Dental caries

Around a quarter of Australians have untreated dental caries (decay).  Rates are higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and outside capital cities. [9]

While people from both low and high-income households are affected by dental decay, rates are higher in low-income households where 39.8% had untreated decay compared to 17.3% of high-income households.[10]

People attending public dental clinics tended to have higher levels of decay.[11]

 

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)(2010), ‘Self‐rated oral health of adults’, Research Report Series No. 51

[2] Ellershaw, A.C. and Spencer A.J. (2011), Dental attendance patterns and oral health status, AIHWDental Statistics and Research Series No. 57, p.23.
9 Spencer, A.J. and Harford J. (2008), Improving Oral Health and Dental Care for Australians. Prepared for the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC), p.7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Spencer, A.J. and Harford, J. (2008), Improving Oral Health and Dental Care for Australians,Prepared for the NHHRC, p.26.

[5] Ellershaw A.C. and Spencer, A.J. (2011), Dental attendance patterns oral health status, AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Series No.57, p.12.

[6] Slade, G and Sanders A, ‘Chapter 8 – Trends in oral health 1987-2006. In Slade, G.D., Spencer, A.J., Roberts‐Thomson, K.F. (editors) (2007), Australia’s Dental Generations: The National Survey of Adult Oral Health 2004‐06, AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Series No. 34, Canberra, pp.234-5

[7] Roberts‐Thomson, K. and Do, L., ‘Chapter 5 – Oral Health Status’. In Slade, G.D., Spencer, A.J., Roberts‐Thomson, K.F. (editors) (2007), Australia’s Dental Generations: The National Survey of Adult Oral Health 2004‐06, AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Series No. 34, Canberra, pp.82‐84.

[8] ibid, p.119.

[9] ibid, p.105.

[10] Spencer, A.J., ‘Oral Health and Dental Services in Australia’, Presentation to the National Advisory Council on Dental Health, 5 October 2011.

[11] Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (2009), ‘Caries experience of private and public dental patients’, Australian Dental Journal, Vol. 54, pp.66‐69.