As Dental Health Week approaches, the Australian Dental Association of WA has revealed that one-third of young West Australians have experienced tooth decay.
“WA continues to see children aged 0-4 years presenting to emergency departments for dental reasons and high numbers of dental hospitalisations,” Dr Gino Cirillo, manager, Community Dental Services – Dental Health Services, explains.
“Children aged 0-4 do not visit a dental practitioner regularly for preventative dental care, with only one in five children seen by a dental practitioner in WA by the recommended age of two.
“By the time children are aged between five and six years, almost one- third (32%) have experienced dental caries (tooth decay).”
It is recommended that visits to the dentist should begin by a child’s first birthday, or when the first teeth erupt.
“Early examination and preventive care will protect your child’s smile now and in the future,” Dr Cirillo says. “Some parents still consider that the primary teeth are not important because they fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth.
“However, besides their obvious importance for eating, appearance and speech, healthy primary teeth are also essential for guiding permanent teeth, which develop underneath them, into their correct positions. “The primary molars, usually the last of the primary teeth to fall out, are normally not replaced by their permanent successors until about age 12 years.”
Specialist paediatric dentist Dr Jilen Patel adds: “The majority of dental disease is preventable and establishing positive oral health habits and a dental home from an early age can go a long way in preventing conditions such as early childhood caries.
“Decay in primary teeth can progress rapidly and may also present with defects affecting the enamel so although the teeth may seem fine, your dentist will be able to spot early signs of disease and implement strategies to keep the teeth healthy.”
The Australian and New Zealand Society of Paediatric Dentistry recommends that the first dental visit should be before the child turns one. “I believe that this is excellent advice and I advise parents that their children should have their teeth checked by age one for the reasons outlined below,” Dr Mark Foster says.
The School Dental Service (SDS) is a public health programme and provides free general dental care to students who attend a Western Australian Department of Education listed school aged 5 to 16 years or until the end of year 11. The SDS is delivered state-wide through fixed and mobile dental therapy centres (DTC) co-located with some schools. Students are generally provided with an initial course of care during the first year of enrolment and are then placed on a recall waiting list to undergo a periodic examination which is dependent upon their clinical needs. Care at each DTC is provided by dental therapists and dental assistants who are supported by a visiting dentist.