Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians

Indigenous Australians are more likely than other Australians to have multiple caries and untreated dental disease, and less likely to have received preventive dental care (AHMAC 2017). The oral health status of Indigenous Australians, like all Australians, is influenced by many factors (see What contributes to poor oral health?) and a tendency towards unfavourable dental visiting patterns, broadly associated with accessibility, cost and a lack of cultural awareness by some service providers (COAG 2015; NACDH 2012).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2020 web report

Since 2006, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (HPF) reports have provided information about Indigenous Australians’ health outcomes, key drivers of health and the performance of the health system. The HPF was designed, in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholder groups, to promote accountability, inform policy and research, and foster informed debate about Indigenous Australians’ health.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2020 web report reports on 68 measures across three domains (tiers). Measure 1.11 Oral health in Tier 1Health status and outcomes describes the oral health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Data presented shows that:

  • 58% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0–14 had seen a dentist in the last 12 months in 2018–19
  • Indigenous children aged 0–4 were hospitalised for dental conditions at 1.7 times the rate of non-Indigenous children between July 2015 and June 2017
  • 19% of Indigenous Australians reported that they did not go to a dentist when they needed to in the previous 12 months
  • 6% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over were reported to have complete tooth loss and 45% had lost at least one tooth, in 2018–19.

Oral health outreach services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Northern Territory, July 2012 to December 2019

Oral health is an important component of overall health and quality of life. Poor oral health can affect adults and children alike, causing pain, embarrassment, and even social marginalisation. For children, the effects can be long term, and carry through to adulthood.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely than non-Indigenous children to experience tooth decay. Several factors contribute towards the poorer oral health of Indigenous children, including social disadvantage and lack of access to appropriate diet and dental services.

Since 2007, the Australian Government has helped fund oral health services for Indigenous children aged under 16 in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment Oral Health Program (NTRAI OHP) complements the Northern Territory Government Child Oral Health Program, by providing preventive (application of full-mouth fluoride varnish and fissure sealants) and clinical (tooth extractions, diagnostics, restorations and examinations) services.

The Oral health outreach services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Northern Territory, July 2012 to December 2019 presents data from the NTRAI OHP. In 2019, more than 13,000 services were delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Northern Territory under the NTRAI OHP (AIHW 2021). Of those:

  • 5,614 children received 6,807 full-mouth fluoride varnish services, a rise of 378 services from 2018
  • 1,612 children received fissure sealant applications to 6,266 teeth, a decrease of 661 teeth from 2018
  • 3,552 children received clinical services during 4,780 visits—such as dental assessments, fillings, extractions, or preventive services—a rise of 894 visits from 2018.