With its sights firmly set on uncovering hidden sugars in Australian diets and shopping trolleys, this year’s Dental Health Week campaign may very well be the wake-up call we need to tackle some pervasive issues within the nation’s oral health habits.
In the first part of our series focusing on the state of Australia’s oral health (for more go to Australia’s Oral Health Tracker), which was first published in the August 2020 issue of the ADA’s News Bulletin, we talk to Professor Marco Peres from the National Research Institute Singapore and Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore.*
Prof. Peres reports that there is good and not so good news resulting from the third National Study on Oral Health. He said: “The good news is that looking back to the last survey, conducted 12 years ago, the number of people completely edentulous – without any natural teeth – has reduced to 4%, which is remarkable achievement.
“More good news is that nearly 90% of our population is covered by water fluoridation and there is a huge percentage of the population brushing with fluoridated toothpaste,” Prof. Peres says. He also reports that the proportion of people who smoke has decreased over time.
However, not all trends have been positive. “We have increasing periodontal disease, which is a consequence of ageing people and also an increased number of people with more natural teeth, which is a paradox, because if you have more people with natural teeth of course you have more people with periodontal disease.
“Also not good news is that the percentage of people who avoided or didn’t have the opportunity to access dental care remained unchanged and this is huge for those people in vulnerable populations – which means those with lower income, lower educational attainment and also Indigenous people. There was a remarkable difference depending on dental care access regarding geographic locations. Those people living in remote and rural areas are less likely to access dental care. And also the proportion of people who avoided dental care due to financial situations remained almost the same as the last survey.
“Social inequality in health and science which means those people from low income, low educational backgrounds – socially vulnerable people – tend to have more oral disease and have less access to dental care. This is a big issue and it will be made even worse due to COVID-19, given that most dental offices were closed for a certain period of time.” Professor Peres expects that the social inequalities could become wider, and there will be more people facing difficulties. “The consequences of COVID-19 will be seen well into the future.”
Prof. Peres says that another issue that is very political and has to be discussed as a country – is the inclusion of dental care into the Medicare system. “There is no biological or clinical explanation for these kinds of division. Dental care should be covered as part of Medicare. In other words – please put the mouth into the body.”
Asked about his thoughts about Dental Health Week, Professor Peres says it is really important for the dental profession to be constantly updated with scientific news. “There are almost 20,000 different journals in the medical field including dentistry and, as it would be impossible to read them all, it is important to read summaries of these journals in publications like this one, published by the ADA.”
* Professor Peres is a dentist with a PhD in Epidemiology. His research areas of interest include health services, data linkage, oral health surveillance, use of fluorides, inequalities in oral health, life-course epidemiology and the relationship between oral health and general health.