This report describes the state of oral health of the Australian adult population at the beginning of the twenty-first century using information from the 2004–06 National Survey of Adult Oral Health (NSAOH). Adults are defined here as people aged 15 years or more and they are further classified into four age groups, or ‘dental generations’. The four generations were born during two-decade intervals through the twentieth century. The results illustrate how unique historical experiences of each generation have left an imprint on the distribution of oral health in today’s population.

Oral health is also described for major sociodemographic subgroups defined according to sex, Indigenous identity, residential location and completed years of schooling. In addition, subgroups relevant to oral health are delineated based on dental insurance coverage, eligibility for public dental care, usual reason for dental visits, and presence or absence of natural teeth.

Summary statistics in this report were computed from two sources. Information about oral disease, particularly dental decay and gum disease, was recorded during examinations of the teeth and gums that were conducted by survey dentists. Additional information about perceptions of oral health and patterns of dental care was obtained from responses to standardised questions asked during telephone
interviews. In addition to the statistical findings, people’s qualitative experiences of oral health and dental care were recorded during more detailed ‘oral history’ interviews. Oral histories were collected from a small number of survey participants from each dental generation. Excerpts from those interviews are presented to illustrate historical influences on oral health using people’s own words.

The 2004–06 NSAOH took place 17 years after the first national oral examination survey of Australians, the 1987–88 National Oral Health Survey of Australia (Barnard 1993). This report includes a comparison of results from the two surveys, evaluating trends in oral disease and dental care that have occurred during the period. Distinct patterns of change between generations and within generations are illustrated. Those trends provide insights into historical influences on dental care and likely trends in oral health status. To provide a background for the Survey, the remaining sections of this chapter describe the circumstances that motivated the Survey, including the rationale for the focus of this report on four dental generations. The aims of the Survey are presented in Chapter 2 together with a description of the Survey’s methods.