The oral health of Australian children improved significantly since the mid‐late 1970s and compares well with other developed countries. This is most likely the result of preventive practices such as fluoridated drinking water and toothpastes, better access to oral health services and the adoption of good dental hygiene practices.[1]

However, since the late 1990s, the prevalence of caries has increased.[2]

The reason for the increase in childhood caries may be due to changes in school dental programs across the states and territories as well as changing dietary patterns[3] including the increased consumption of bottled water, sports drinks and soft drinks.[4] This is significant, because poor childhood oral health is a strong predictor of poor adult oral health.[5]

Caries affects a minority of children. Around 20% of four year olds and 20% of 15 year olds have approximately 90% of the total tooth decay for their age group.[6] Children in disadvantaged areas have approximately 1.5 times the amount of caries than children in the most advantaged areas. However, surprising proportions of children affected by dental caries are found in middle and upper socioeconomic groups.

Tooth decay

The Australian Child Dental Health Survey (2003‐04) showed that 48.7% of children aged 5‐6 years have experienced dental caries in their deciduous (baby) teeth and approximately 41.3% had untreated decay.[7]

By 12 years of age, most children have all of their permanent teeth. Data from the Australian Child Dental Health Survey (2003‐04) revealed that 45.1% of 12 year olds had decay in their permanent teeth and 24.8% had untreated dental decay.[8] Similar to the 5‐6 year olds, the prevalence, severity and level of untreated dental decay was higher in areas of lower socio‐economic status.

Child visiting patterns

As with adults, children who visit an oral health practitioner at least once a year for check-ups are less likely to have extractions and fillings.[9]

Around 90% of 5-11 year olds visit the dental practitioner at least once a year, but this figure drops to around
80% for 12‐17 year olds.[10]

Approximately one fifth of children usually visit a dental practitioner less than once a year and mostly to treat a problem rather than for a check up.

Certain priority groups are at higher risk of poor visiting patterns, which places them at a higher risk of developing oral disease. These groups include:

  • children from lower income households;
  • dependants of parent concession card holders;
  • child concession card holders;
  • Indigenous children; and
  • homeless children

 

 

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2009), A Picture of Australia’s Children 2009, p.38.

[2] Spencer, A.J. and Harford, J. (2008), Improving Oral Health and Dental Care for Australians.Prepared for the NHHRC, p.36.

[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2009), A Picture of Australia’s Children 2009, p.38 & Rogers, J.G. (2011), Evidence‐based oral health promotion resource, Prevention and Population Health Branch, Government of Victoria, Department of Health, p.42.

[4] Armfield, J.M., Spencer, A.J. and Brennan, D.S. (2009), Dental health of Australia’s teenagers and pre‐teen children: The Child Dental Health Survey, Australia 2003‐04, AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Series, No.52, p.3.

[5] Lucas, N., Neumann, A., Kilpatrick, N. and Nicholson, J.M. (2011), ‘State‐level differences in the oral health of Australian preschool and early primary school‐age children’, Australian Dental Journal, Vol. 56, pp.56‐62.

[6] Rogers, J.G. (2011), Evidence‐based oral health promotion resource, Prevention and Population Health Branch, Government of Victoria, Department of Health, p.42.

[7] Ha, D. (2011), Dental decay among Australian children, AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Report Series, No. 53, p.6.

[8] Ha, D. (2011), Dental decay among Australian children, AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Report Series, No. 53, pp.7 and 10.

[9] Ellershaw, A.C. and Spencer, A.J. (2009), Trends in access to dental care among Australian children, AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Series, No.51, pp. 12 and 36.

[10] Ibid, pp.27‐30.