7. Dental health

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Why is dental health in children important?

Good oral health in childhood contributes to better wellbeing and improved dental outcomes in adulthood – less decay and the loss of fewer natural teeth.

Changes caused by dental decay (dental caries), either because of pain or aesthetic changes, affect children’s quality of life, and a healthy smile has considerable bearing on social interactions and self-esteem (Bonecker et al. 2012; Rodd et al. 2011).

Negative impacts of dental decay on children’s lives include: symptoms and functional alterations, such as chewing and speech impairment; schooling factors, such as school absenteeism and decline in academic performance; and, psychological issues, such as trouble sleeping, and irritability (Brennan, Spencer, Roberts-Thomson 2008; Jackson et al. 2011; Bonecker et al. 2012; Rodd et al. 2011).

Dental decay (dental caries) results from a complex interplay of genetic and biological factors, the social and physical environment, health behaviours, and dental and medical care (Fisher-Owens et al. 2007). Untreated dental decay can adversely affect children’s growth, facilitating infection and the systemic spread of disease (Berg & Coniglio 2006). Decay in deciduous (baby) teeth is a risk factor for decay in permanent teeth (Skeie, Raadal, Stand, Espelid 2006). 

Most dental diseases are largely preventable, however there are risks associated with dental disease. Early preventive strategies include parental counselling about diet, establishing sound oral hygiene practice, appropriate use of fluorides and the avoidance of transmission of bacteria from parents to children (Berg & Coniglio 2006).

Do mean DMFT vary across population groups?

In the 2010 Child Dental Health Survey, the national mean number of decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth (DMFT) among children aged 12 was 1.3. The mean DMFT was significantly higher in inner regional areas (1.8) compared with major cities (1.3), outer regional (1.3) and remote and very remote areas (1.4). Children aged 12 living in the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) areas experienced significantly higher DMFT than those in the highest SES area (1.6 compared with 1.0). Differences for children aged 12 by sex and Indigenous status were not statistically significant.

Has there been a change over time?

Nationally, the mean number of DMFT among 12 year olds was significantly higher in 2010 (1.3) than in 2002 (1.0). Similarly, over the same time period, the mean DMFT among 12 year olds living in areas with the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) areas was significantly higher in 2010 (1.6) than in 2002 (1.2).

Differences for 12 year olds by sex, remoteness and Indigenous status were not statistically significant. 


Data were not available for New South Wales for 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2010 and for Victoria from 2005. National data by Indigenous status are not available from 2003–04 to 2007.

This indicator is based on survey data and 95% confidence intervals have been calculated. The confidence intervals are used to provide an approximate indication of the true difference between rates. If the 95% confidence intervals do not overlap, the difference can be said to be statistically significant.


  • Berg P & Coniglio D 2006. Oral health in children overlooked and undertreated. Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants 19(4):40–52.
  • Bonecker M, Abanto J, Tello G, Butini O (2012). Impact of dental caries in preschool children’s quality of life: an update. Brazilian Oral Research 26(1):103-107.Brennan DS, Spencer AJ & Roberts-Thomson KF 2008. Tooth loss, chewing ability and quality of life. Quality of Life Research 17:227–35.
  • Fisher-Owens SA, Gansky SA, Platt LJ, Weintraub JA, Soobader M, Bramlett MD et al. 2007. Influences on children’s oral health: a conceptual model. Pediatrics 120(3):510–20.
  • Jackson SL, Vann WF, Kotch JB, Pahel BT & Lee JY 2011. Impact of poor oral health on children’s school attendance and performance. American Journal of Public Health 101: 1900–1906.
  • Rodd HD, Marshman Z, Porritt J, Bradbury J, Baker SR (2011). Oral health-related quality of life of children in relation to dental appearance and educational transition. British Dental Journal 211(E4): 1-6.
  • Skeie MS, Raadal M, Stand GV, Espelid I. (2006). The relationship between caries in the primary dentition at 5 years of aged and permanent dentition at 10 years of age-A longitudinal study. International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, 16:152-160.