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30 Nov 2010 | Auxiliary

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New report exposes the extent of oral health issues in regional, low-income and indigenous children

A new report by Oral-B highlights the oral health inequalities suffered by children from regional areas, low-income families and of indigenous descent. Authored by several of Australia's foremost authorities on paediatric dentistry, the report found that children from regional areas have almost twice the number of untreated decayed teeth compared with children from major cities.

The report is collaboration between Dr David Manton of the Melbourne Dental School; Peter Wong from the Australasian Academy of Paediatric Dentistry; Professor Richard Widmer from the Children's Hospital at Westmead; Dr Susan Tregeagle from Barnardos Australia; and Oral-B Dentist Dr Stephen Blatchford.

Key findings from the report are as follows (taken from children under 11 years old in regional Australia):

* As many as 8 in 10 children fail to brush their teeth twice a day. Half have a routine in which they only brush their teeth once a day or less often;

* A third have never seen a dentist, with many parents believing a dental visit is only required when the child has a specific problem;

* Almost 9 in 10 (88%) have not seen a dentist before their second birthday and many do not visit a dentist before they commence school;

* More than half (59%) have experienced a dental problem such as a cavity or toothache by the age of 11;

* Half of all parents have delayed taking a child to the dentist for a check-up or treatment, with cost being the major barrier (37%). This is a particular issue in low income households with 50% of parents with a household income of $40,000 or less delaying taking their child to the dentist; and

* In rural locations, distance is a significant barrier to seeking immediate dental treatment or check-ups, with almost a quarter (24%) of parents delaying a visit for this reason.

Dr David Manton believes that parents' oral health knowledge, attitude and behaviours could be partly responsible for some of these findings. "There is a common misconception among parents that an oral hygiene regime should begin only once their child reaches school age. Most of the children I've treated with significant oral health problems have been under the age of two," he stated.

In response to these issues, the Oral-B Health Program is being launched with the aim of touching and educating one million people to help achieve healthier mouths for a healthier nation, while helping every Australian improve their oral health through access to services, education and good products. In its inaugural year, the OBHP will fund a grants program for children from regional areas so they can receive timely access to much needed dental services.

In addition, a mobile clinic tour launched on Monday 29 November, providing free check-ups to children and families in regional locations around the country. Any parent or carer of a child found to require dental work during the check-ups will be encouraged to apply for an Oral-B Health Program grant on their behalf.

"The support of Oral-B in providing the opportunity for less advantaged children to gain access to specialist paediatric dental care is to be commended," Dr Manton said. "Too many children suffer from tooth decay, especially in regional and remote areas. The Oral-B Health Program of clinical care in conjunction with prevention can only help in obtaining better oral health for the future."

Dr Susan Tregeagle of Barnardos, who will be operating the grants, supports the program for providing easier access to dental services for those who need it most. "Children with poor oral health are often the victim of bullying and as a result suffer from low self-esteem," Dr Tregeagle said. "Later in life, this can lead to poorer job prospects and social isolation, continuing the cycle of disadvantage. It's good to see inroads being made to address this imbalance".


All references can be found in 'Decay, Disparity and the Disadvantaged: addressing oral health problems in regional and urban Australian'. The report was written by Dr David Manton of University of Melbourne in collaboration with Professor Richard Widmer (Children's Hospital at Westmead), Dr Peter Wong (Australasian Academy of Paediatric Dentistry), Dr Susan Tregeagle (Barnardos) and Dr Stephen Blatchford (Sydney-based private practice dentist).

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