Early tooth decay in children increasing

After three decades of improvements, decay incidence in children is now increasing, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Oral health in South Australia 2004, developed from a range of surveys conducted by the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH), says that dental decay in both primary and secondary school aged children attending the School Dental Service has steadily increased since the late 1990s.

In 1996, children aged 12-13 years had an average of 0.53 decayed permanent teeth but by 2002 this had increased by 75% to 0.93,' said Professor John Spencer of the University of Adelaide's Research Centre for Population Oral Health.

'This is a worrying trend for future adult oral health, as this is occurring despite nearly every child and adolescent using dental services in the last two years, mostly at a school dental service clinic.

'In contrast, about one-third of adults have not visited a dentist in the last two years.'

Untreated dental decay accounted for over 10% of the total decay experience among adults.

While most adults were satisfied with the dental care they received, many avoided or delayed care, or recommended treatments because of cost.

'This is despite the fact that over 50% of people in South Australia have dental insurance, which is somewhat higher than the national figure,' said Professor Spencer.

Tooth decay in adults using the public dental service has also increased since the mid-1990s with dental problems, like toothache, reported by up to one in four adults each year.

The patterns of oral disease, use of services, expenditure and the labour force present a complex challenge for improving oral health and meeting the community's need for dental care.

This report will help inform public discussion on the lead up to the formulation of a South Australian Oral Health Plan under the development of the South Australian government.

'What we want to ensure is a better fit between those in need of dental treatment and the provision of dental services,' said Professor Spencer.

26 August 2005

Further information: Professor John Spencer, ARCPOH tel. 08 8303 5438 or 0412 220 859

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel 02 6244 1032.