Preventative strategies

The goal of Australia’s National Oral Health Plan 2015–2024 (COAG Health Council 2015) is to improve the oral health status and reduce the burden of poor oral health across the Australian population. The Plan outlines national strategic directions at both the population and individual level, across six Foundation Areas, the first being oral health promotion. Key strategies of this Foundation Area include:

  • extending access to the preventive effects of fluoride
  • broadening the availability of evidence-based oral health promotion programs
  • strengthening and embedding nutrition and oral health policies in key settings, for example early childhood education.

Key terms

  • Fluoride: A naturally occurring trace mineral that helps to prevent tooth decay.
  • Water fluoridation: The process of adjusting the amount of fluoride in drinking water.
  • Fissure sealants: Materials applied to the pits and fissure surfaces of teeth to create a thin barrier, which protect the sealed surfaces from caries.

Toothbrushing

Brushing your teeth twice per day with a fluoridated toothpaste is effective in preventing tooth decay. Tooth brushing with a fluoridated toothpaste mechanically removes and controls the build-up of plaque, and applies fluoride to the teeth. The data presented in this section were sourced from the National Child Oral Health Study 2012–14 (Do & Spencer 2016).

Around two-thirds of children (69%) aged 5–14 years brushed their teeth at least twice a day with toothpaste.

  • Girls (71%) were more likely to have brushed their teeth at least twice a day with toothpaste than boys (66%).
  • Indigenous children (54%) were less likely to brush their teeth twice a day with toothpaste than non-Indigenous children (70%).
  • Children who last visited the dentist for a dental problem (65%) were less likely to brush their teeth twice a day with toothpaste than those who last visited for a check-up (73%).
  • Children from high-income households (78%) were more likely to brush their teeth than children from low-income households (59%).

Water fluoridation

Community water fluoridation is a safe strategy to improve oral health by reducing the risk of dental caries. The Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council found that water fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 26% to 44% in children and adolescents, and by 27% in adults (NHMRC 2017).

Around 89% of the Australian population have access to fluoridated drinking water.

  • The proportion of the Australian population with access to fluoridated drinking water has increased over time from 69% in 2003, to 89% in 2017.
  • Around 76% of the Queensland population has access to fluoridated water, whereas around 100% of the Australian Capital Territory’s population has access to fluoridated water.

Fissure sealants in children

Due to their structure, the permanent teeth at the back of the mouth (molar teeth) can be difficult to keep clean. These molar teeth have many grooves (fissures) and pits on their surfaces that are susceptible to developing caries. Fissure sealants may be applied to teeth to create a thin barrier that protects the sealed surfaces from caries (Do & Spencer 2016). The data presented in this section were sourced from the National Child Oral Health Study 2012–14 (Do & Spencer 2016).

Around a quarter (27%) of children aged 6–14 years had at least one fissure sealant in their permanent teeth.

  • The proportion of children with at least one fissure sealant in their permanent teeth increased with age, ranging from 12% in 6–8 year olds, 28% in 9–11 year olds to 40% in 12–14 year olds.
  • The proportion of children with at least one fissure sealed tooth varied across states and territories, ranging from 42% in Tasmania to 17% in New South Wales. Children in Tasmania had an average of 1.8 fissure sealed tooth surfaces per child.

References

  • COAG (Council of Australian Governments) Health Council 2015. Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives: Australia’s National Oral Health Plan 2015–2024. Adelaide: South Australian Dental Service.
  • Do LG & Spencer AJ (editors) 2016. Oral health of Australian children: the National Child Oral Health Study 2012–14. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press.
  • NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) 2017. PDF DownloadNHMRC Public Statement 2017 - Water Fluoridation and Human Health in Australia. Canberra: NHMRC.