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Australian children rank among the world's best for their oral health, although Australian boys and girls experience differing levels of tooth decay, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Dental health differences between boys and girls: The Child Dental Health Survey, Australia 2000 draws on data collected on children aged 4-15 years enrolled in state and territory government-run school dental services.
The report states that of 49 countries for which comparable national data are available, Australia has the fourth lowest average number of decayed, missing and filled permanent (adult) teeth among 12-year-olds.
Comparing Australian boys and girls, boys had more decayed deciduous (baby) teeth than girls, while girls at every age showed more decay among their adult teeth than boys.
'At any given age, boys have more baby teeth present and girls have more adult teeth present, due to the earlier eruption of permanent teeth in girls,' said co-author Jason Armfield, from AIHW's Dental Statistics and Research Unit in Adelaide.
However the differences in decay rates remain even when this is allowed for.
'Another interesting finding was boys had slightly higher numbers of fillings in their permanent teeth than girls at most ages, despite the girls' slightly worse overall dental health for permanent teeth,' Mr Armfield said.
Figures for all Australian children show a steady decline in the presence of decayed baby teeth with increasing age, while for permanent teeth the level of decay increased consistently with age.
Mr Armfield said that while most Australian children show relatively low levels of decay in their baby teeth, there was a minority who experienced considerable levels of tooth decay.
'A considerable amount of tooth decay is experienced by a small minority of children. For example, among 6-year-olds, the 10% with the worst dental health had about 5 times the number of decayed, missing or filled baby teeth than the national average, with more than 8 affected teeth, on average, recorded per child,' he said.
There are considerable differences in children's dental health between the states and territories. For example, for 5- and 6-year-olds' baby teeth, the average number of decayed, missing and filled teeth was highest in the Northern Territory (2.26 teeth) and lowest in New South Wales (0.98 teeth).