Concerns over children's dental health

The end of the 1990s brought an increase in the number of decayed, missing or filled deciduous (baby) teeth in Australian children, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

There was also a corresponding drop in the percentage of children with no tooth decay experience.

The report, The Child Dental Health Survey, Australia 1999: Trends across the 1990s gives an insight into changes in children's oral health at the end of the 20th century. It involved a survey of nearly 372,000 children in 1999, with data obtained being compared with previous surveys.

Report co-author Jason Armfield said that 'while the dental health of Australia's children is generally very good in world terms, at the very least there is no room for complacency'.

'The increases in decayed, missing or filled baby teeth were most evident for 5-year-olds, who, for example, experienced a 22% increase in decayed teeth between 1996 and 1999. An 8% increase was experienced by 6-year-olds across this same period', Mr Armfield said.

'Furthermore, the 10% of 6-year-olds who had the most decay experience in 1999 had over 5 times the number of decayed, missing or filled baby teeth (about 8 teeth per child) than the national average.'

'These data follow two decades of recorded declines in decay experience in children. They show a trend of increases in decay in younger children, and that some children have very high levels of decay.'

Other findings in the report include:

  • The average number of decayed, missing or filled teeth for 6-year-olds was lowest in the Australian Capital Territory (1.17) and South Australia (1.30). It was highest in Queensland (2.25 teeth), the Northern Territory (2.08) and Victoria (1.95).
  • 12-year olds in Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria had the highest average number of decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth (1.30, 1.15, and 1.09 teeth respectively).
  • The report also shows that out of 38 countries for which comparable national data are available, Australia had the second lowest average number of decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth in 12-year-old children.

17 April 2003

Further information: Jason Armfield, AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Unit, tel. 08 8303 4050
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032