Indigenous kids’ dental health improving, but more services needed

The Closing the Gap Child Oral Health Program is having a positive effect on the dental health of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory, but more services are needed, according to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released in Alice Springs today by the Minister for Indigenous Health, Warren Snowdon.

The program targets Indigenous children who received dental referrals during Child Health Checks introduced under the Northern Territory Emergency Response, but also provides dental services to Indigenous children under 16 living in remote communities in the NT.

The report, Dental health of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory: Progress of the Closing the Gap Child Oral Health Program 2011, shows that between August 2007 and December 2011 more than 8,000 children, around half of the population under 16 in remote communities, were provided with nearly 15,000 dental services through the program.

‘The good news is that the oral health of children who received more than one dental service under the program is improving’, said AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman.

‘About 60% of children who received treatment for dental caries at their first dental service had no more caries needing treatment at their most recent dental service which occurred after 9 months or more from the initial service. For those treated for mouth infections or sores at their first visit, 97% did not show the same condition subsequently.’

‘Although a large number of services has been provided since the Child Oral Health Program began, our data suggest a need for further services or continuing effort’, Dr Al-Yaman said.

At the end of 2011, of the 3,223 Indigenous children who had received a dental referral from Child Health Checks, about 2,458 had received a dental service, and 756 had an outstanding dental referral.

The average waiting time between referral and service was 18 months.

In addition 2,000 children already seen by a dental service who needed additional treatment hadn’t yet received those services.

Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman said, however, that the data needed to be viewed in the context of the special challenges in providing services to children in the Northern Territory.

‘For example high mobility of the Indigenous population can make it difficult for outreach teams to locate children who have been referred, and it can be difficult to find older children who do not attend school regularly.’

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.


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