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 third 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 paediatric dentist Dr Debra Elsby who is a children’s dental-health specialist based in the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne.
Looking at the tracking of dental health in Australia, dental caries remains the most common chronic infectious disease in childhood. Over the last 15 to 20 years, disease prevalence has been increasing steadily.
Dr Elsby says: “A large portion of dental caries in children remains untreated with greater than one in four five- to 10-year-olds displaying untreated disease. This can lead to further caries experience in both primary and permanent teeth, hospitalisation, poor nutrition leading to delayed physical growth and development, loss of sleep and time off school.”
The main culprit that leads to dental caries has not changed; it is sugar consumption.
Dr Elsby says: “It is becoming more and more difficult for parents to escape sugar when they buy groceries. Sugar is ‘hidden’ in many food products under 56 different names! What chance do parents have? WHO recommends a maximum of six teaspoons of sugar per day.”
Dr Elsby recommends that there is a huge overhaul of food labelling to help address this, and also says that parents should supervise their children when they clean their teeth up to the age of around eight. She also points out that fluoridated water supply is the most effective public health measure in the prevention of dental caries. As of February 2017, 89% of Australians have access to fluoridated drinking water.
“Bundaberg ceased water fluoridation in 2012 and now has a rate approximately 2.5 times higher than those areas of the state with fluoridated water. Conversely, dental health in the Cape York Indigenous community demonstrated a 40% reduction in dental caries six years after the introduction of fluoride to their water supply,” she states.
Dental Health Week is a great time to highlight the importance of good oral health as part of good general health. Many educational resources are available for practices to further promote good oral health. It is also a good time to introduce fundraising to your practice. “Last year during dental health week we hosted a ‘Tea for Teeth’ to support EviDent,” says Dr Elsby.
Her favourite go-to sources for keeping up with trends in dental health are the Oral health of Australian children: The National Child Oral Health Study 2012-14 (University of Adelaide), and Oral health and dental care in Australia (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019).