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The oral health and dental care of Australians has improved over the long term; however some of the positive trends since the 1970s may be reversing, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Oral health and dental care in Australia: key facts and figures trends 2014, highlights key trends in the oral health and dental care of the Australian population using the most recently available national data.

It shows there are some areas where improvements made in the past have either plateaued or have begun to head in a negative direction.

For example, from 1977 to 1995, there was a steady drop in the average number of children's baby teeth affected by decay. This trend had now reversed, with a gradual rise from 1996.

'Similarly, since the late 1990s there has been a gradual increase in decay of children's permanent teeth,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster.

And for people aged 15 and over, from 1994 to 2010 the proportion of people reporting any adverse oral health impact (such as toothache, feeling uncomfortable about dental appearance or avoiding certain foods because of problems with their teeth) generally rose. The proportion ranged between 31.4% (1994) and 39.9% (2008).

'In contrast to these recent negative trends in oral health, the trends in dental visiting patterns have generally been more positive,' Dr Webster said.

'The proportion of people aged 15 and over who made a dental visit in the previous 12 months rose from 56% to 62% between 1994 and 2010.

'But despite this, the cost of dental care remains a barrier for some. From 1994 to 2010 there was a rise in the proportion of adults avoiding visits to a dentist due to costs, from about 25% to 30%.'

Dr Webster said total spending on dental services in Australia had increased from $6,133 million to $8,336 million (adjusted for inflation) between 2005-06 and 2011-12.

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, 18 August 2014

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

Full publication: Oral health and dental care in Australia: key facts and figures trends 2014