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Dental services provided to over 6,000 Indigenous children in prescribed communities in the Northern Territory confirm the high prevalence of oral health problems, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Dental health of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory, provides information on the dental services delivered as part of the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement (NPA).

The report details the amount and types of dental services provided, the extent of follow-up care provided to children with dental referrals and the oral health status of children who received dental services.

‘Over 9,500 occasions of service were provided to more than 6,000 children between August 2007 and June 2010,’ said Dr Indrani Pieris-Caldwell of the AIHW’s Indigenous Determinants & Outcomes Unit.

‘Data limitations affected the comprehensiveness of the information available for the report—for example it does not contain information from all service providers and some children did not consent to making their dental information available to the AIHW.’

Based on about 4,300 children who had treatment data available, almost all children receiving a dental service also received a diagnostic service. The most common services provided were preventative (70%) and restorative (48%), followed by fluoride varnish and dental surgery (16%). However, 55% required further dental care after their initial consultation.

‘Although the high mobility of Indigenous children in these areas is a challenge when providing follow-up services, 60% of the children who required follow-up care have been seen by a dental health professional,’ Dr Pieris-Caldwell said.

Among this group of children, the average waiting time between referral and receipt of service was just over 14 months.

Information on decayed, missing or filled teeth was available for about 2,000 children. Of these children, 83% had some decayed, missing or filled teeth, much higher than for comparable Northern Territory or other Australian children.

The findings of this report also suggest that the considerable need for dental services among these children is expected to continue into the future because of the high prevalence of oral health problems and a significant number of follow-up services required.  

Canberra, 18 March 2010

Further information: Dr Indrani Pieris-Caldwell, tel. (02) 6244 1162, mob. 0418 271 395

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032

Full report: Dental health of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory