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People with lower household income and people living in regional and remote areas generally have poorer oral health than other Australians, according to new information published on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) website today.

Today's update to the AIHW's Dental and oral health web pages shows that both dental health and dental visiting patterns are affected by remoteness and socioeconomic status.

The proportion of people with untreated decay was greater in Remote/Very remote areas (38%) than in Major cities (24%).

'In 2004-06, adults living in Inner regional areas had the highest measure of poor oral health, which is defined as the average number of decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth (DMFT) at 14.75,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster.

Similar patterns were also seen in dental visiting, with adults in Major cities the most likely to have visited a dentist for a check-up at least once in the past 12 months (49% of adults).
This compares to just 31% of people living in Remote/Very remote areas.

Most dentists work in Major cities (79.7% of all employed dentists), while only 0.9% were in Remote/Very remote areas (0.9%). Major cities also had the highest rates of dentists and dental hygienists, while Remote/Very remote areas had the lowest rates of all dental practitioners, except dental therapists.

'Visiting patterns also varied by household income. Under one-third (28%) of adults in the lowest income group had visited a dentist for a check-up in the last 12 months, compared to over half of those in the highest income group (56%),' Dr Webster said.

People in higher income households generally have lower rates of untreated decay as well as fewer missing teeth, compared to those in lower income households.

'The proportion of people with untreated decay was highest for those with household income of less than $12,000 per year, and the lowest where household income was $100,000 or more,' Dr Webster said.

People living in lower income households went to the dentist less often than those in higher income households.

Half of those with a household income of less than $12,000 per year had visited the dentist in the previous year (50%), compared to two-thirds of those with a household income of at least $100,000 (67%).

Around one-third of the lower income group hadn't visited the dentist at all in the past 2 years (34%), compared to less than one-fifth (16%) of the higher income group.

Survey data from 2010 shows more than one-quarter of people aged 5 or older (28%) avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to cost. From 1994 to 2010, there was a rise in the proportion of adults avoiding dental visits, from about 25% to 30%. For children, the overall trend was unchanged at around 14%, but varied between 8.5% and 17% over this period.

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, 26 February 2014

Further information: Dr Adrian Webster, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1119 mob. 0434 022 127