Report finds oral health gap between Australians who regularly visit a dentist and those who don’t

A report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) confirms big differences in the oral health of Australian adults depending on whether they visit the dentist regularly or not.

The report, Dental attendance patterns and oral health status, uses findings from the 2004-2006 National Survey of Adult Oral Health to show that adults with an unfavourable pattern of dental attendance have significantly poorer oral health than those with a favourable attendance pattern.

The ‘favourable’ group includes about 40% of Australian adults who have a usual dental care provider whom they visit at least once a year for a check-up.

The ‘unfavourable’ group, which includes nearly 30% of Australian adults, visit varying dentists infrequently and usually for a dental problem.

The remaining ‘intermediate’ group (30%) have a mixed pattern of dental attendance.

‘While the pattern of dental attendance that people displayed did not lead to variations in the lifetime experience of dental decay, the way that decay has been managed varied significantly,’ said Professor John Spencer of the AIHW’s Dental Statistics and Research Unit.

‘Those with an unfavourable pattern of dental attendance had more than 3 times the level of untreated decayed teeth and 1.6 times more teeth missing due to dental decay than those with a favourable pattern of attendance.

‘Those seeking regular dental check-ups were more likely to have dental decay treated promptly, which led to less untreated decay, fewer extractions and more teeth restored.’

Gum disease was also more frequent among adults with an unfavourable pattern of visiting the dentist.

‘Those with unfavourable attendance were 1.6 times more likely to have gingivitis and 1.5 times more likely to have periodontitis, than those with favourable attendance,’ Professor Spencer said.

Adults with an unfavourable pattern of dental attendance were also more likely to report barriers to accessing dental care.

In particular, they were 3 times more likely to report avoiding or delaying dental care due to the cost, having difficulty paying a $100 dental bill, and being very afraid or distressed when making a dental visit.

The number of adults with an unfavourable visiting pattern is sizeable and widespread across the whole population. However, unfavourable visiting is more frequent among younger adults, men, the uninsured and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and areas.

Canberra, 21 April 2011

Further information: Prof. John Spencer, AIHW, tel. (08 8303 5438), mob. 0418 271 395

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032