Australia’s oral health: way forward

There has arguably never been a more important time in modern oral health in Australia. The pandemic may have altered our professional landscape, but conversely the industry now benefits from the findings of the impressive nationally collaborative project, Australia’s Oral Health Tracker, and an international focus on improving oral health targets, thanks to the World Health Organization’s push to drastically reduce and prevent chronic non-communicative disease, such as periodontitis, by 2025.

Results from the ADA’s consumer survey of 25,000 Australians in late 2020 tell us that the numbers of people

looking after their teeth are generally on the climb – but there is still some worrying trends that are best combatted by education and informative public messaging from the dental community.

For example, 12% of survey respondents who only brush their teeth once day do so because they believed brushing more often was bad for their teeth; 29% of those who brushed less than twice a day gave their reason for this as experiencing pain and discomfort from brushing. A worrying 39% of respondents’ children drank soft drink 2-5 times every week, and 40% report they normally visit for a check-up between six months and two years. We see there is still plenty of work to do.

Collaborating to amplify the message

In the last year, even amongst the disruption caused by COVID-19, there has been a surge in collaborative activity and initiatives surrounding the ADA’s areas of remit. With more data on Australians’ dental and oral health habits now available, the ADA has been able to focus ever more keenly on one of its main overall policies: to promote good oral health. Working with such diverse bodies as SugarByHalf and even the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), the message of improving and maintaining great oral health has been amplified.

To reach consumers in the general public in the most approachable and accessible ways possible, this message has taken the form of posters, podcasts, new websites and digital resource centres, social-media pages, cookbooks, school lesson plans and more.

The aim is to ‘bridge the gap’ between the public and the dental community that has sometimes widened due to fear, lack of information or even misinformation. An informed consumer, after all, is a motivated consumer – especially when the correct information leads to that consumer keeping safe, healthy and well.

It comes down to attitude

Annual events and promotional activities, such as Dental Health Week (falling this month in 2-8 August), allow dentists and dental professionals to access new and fun resources to use in promoting the message of preventative and consistent oral health.

However, although the many downloads and messages from our members about their promotional activities show us that dentists do a fantastic job of getting the message to their patients, in many cases the consumer must already be ‘in the chair’ in order to receive that messaging – although there are some wonderful practices whose dentists do go out into the community to talk to groups and children.

Widening our approach to include such multi-channel resources as podcasts and social media, for example,

allows the ADA and the industry to reach people outside of their dentist’s practice. If this more diverse messaging can prompt members of the public to ‘own’ their oral health in a more proactive and interested way, it will bring more patients to dentists in terms of sheer numbers, but also in terms of motivation to look after their teeth in a sustained and engaged way.

Dental Health Week 2021

This attitude change, indeed, is at the core of the message behind this year’s Dental Health Week slogan: ‘Keep your smile for life’. This message underpins the notion that oral health needn’t decline with age; with preventive measures now at the forefront of industry messaging, the oncecommon ‘false teeth’ trope that once accompanied any thought of ageing and oral care need no longer be true.

The ‘look’ of this year’s Dental Health Week campaign is the same as on the pages of this story: generations of

Australians smiling from framed portraits on the wall, their healthy smiles affirming the message that, with regular visits to your dentist and a committed approach to both maintenance and prevention, your teeth can last you for life.

The statistics from the 2020 Australia’s Oral Health Tracker tell us that, indeed, more Australian adults are keeping their teeth for longer: the percentage of adults with fewer than 21 teeth reduced from 15.5% (in 2018) to 10.2% (in 2020). However, a deeper look into the numbers also tells us that the number of adults with untreated and potentially painful tooth decay increased significantly over the same period, from a quarter of adults to around a third of adults (25.5% to 32.1%). Likewise, adults with periodontal pockets (≥4mm), which can cause tooth loss, went from 19.8% to 28.8%.

Therefore, ‘Keep your smile for life’ is an ideal message to promote to everyone from adults to school children.

One of the more colourful ways it is being presented is in Colgate-Palmolive’s Bright Smiles, Bright Futures education kits, meant for dental practitioners to visit schools and events, or promote within their practice. The four different kits, ordered by interested practitioners in May and June, are: the kits for 3-5 years and 5-9 years, and the preschool and primary school teachers’ kits.

Each of the school kits comes with a teacher’s guide, age-appropriate storybooks and/or readers, calendars,

posters and stickers. Depending on the kit, resources such as hand soap, toothbrushes and toothpastes are also included to give each young recipient a headstart.

The four key messages of the 2021 DHW campaign aim to reinforce the importance of maintaining good oral health throughout a person’s life:

– Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste;

– Clean between your teeth daily using floss or interdental brushes;

– Eat a healthy, balanced diet and limit added sugar; and

– Visit the dentist regularly for check-ups and preventive care.

/ADA Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.