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Improvements have been made in the oral and ear health of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Northern Territory Emergency Response Child Health Check Initiative follow-up for oral and ear health: final report, August 2007 to June 2012, presents information on the dental, audiology and ear, nose and throat (ENT) services funded throughout the course of the Child Health Check Initiative (CHCI) Closing the Gap (CtG) program between August 2007 and June 2012.

Although open to all Indigenous children under 16 years of age living in prescribed communities, this program specifically targeted those who received referrals from their Child Health Checks.

'Over the course of the whole program, around 17,200 dental services were received by 9,300 children and 9,200 audiology services were received by 5,700 children,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman.

A further 3,800 ENT consultations were provided to over 2,600 children by the conclusion of the ENT component of the program in December 2010. Between 1 July 2009 and 31 December 2010, 291 ENT surgeries were performed on 283 children.

At 30 June 2012, the majority of children who were on active CHC referral lists received follow-up services. The follow-up rates were 94% for dental referral, nearly 100% for audiology referral and 97% for ENT referral.

The most significant oral health problem among children who received an oral health service was untreated caries (decay).

Around one-half of the children who had an audiological assessment were diagnosed with hearing loss and around one-third were diagnosed with some degree of hearing impairment based on their better ear. At least one type of middle ear condition was diagnosed in around two-thirds of children who received an audiology or ENT service.

'The good news is there have been improvements,' Dr Al-Yaman said.

'For children who had more than one course of dental care, the overall prevalence for children with at least one oral health problem fell by 12 percentage points.'

Among children who had two or more audiology checks, the prevalence of hearing loss fell by 10 percentage points. About 60% of children who were diagnosed with hearing impairment at their first check showed some degree of improvement at their last audiology check. The prevalence of middle ear conditions fell by 21 percentage points among children who received two or more audiology/ENT services.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 28 November 2012

Further information: Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1146, mob. 0407 068 033

Full publication: Northern Territory Emergency Response Child Health Check Initiative follow-up for oral and ear health: final report, August 2007 to June 2012