Oral health program for Aboriginal children in rural NSW shows results

A program developed with local communities by a team from the Universities of Sydney and Adelaide and the NSW Ministry of Health has seen a significant reduction in tooth decay, plaque scores and gingivitis among target groups.

The project began in 2014, in response to requests from Aboriginal Elders in Central Northern New South Wales, when a joint team from the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, The University of Sydney, The University of Sydney School of Dentistry, the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health and the Centre for Oral Health Strategy, New South Wales Ministry of Health collected baseline data on the oral health of Aboriginal children aged 5-12 years of age.

Working with local Aboriginal communities on the basis that “health programs are more likely to be effective if they are developed in partnership with the local community [and] engage the local community in service delivery”, the team developed an evidence-based oral health promotion program which commenced in three schools in 2016 and centred on a program of daily toothbrushing (and ongoing toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste distribution), regular application of fluoride varnish, a water bottle program and dental health education.

The program underwent evaluation in 2018 with the oral health status and oral hygiene behaviours of participating children were compared with the baseline figures from 2014, resulting in a drop in the mean number of teeth affected by tooth decay from 5.31 to 4.13, accompanied by “an increase … in positive oral hygiene behaviour”.

Oral health programs such as this one are timely and important, especially in light of the fact that “Australian Aboriginal children experience higher levels of tooth decay than non-Aboriginal children (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007)” and that an improvement in the oral health of Aboriginal children has been identified as a priority by both the Federal and NSW governments.

It is hoped that the principles used in the creation and execution of this program can be used ” to guide the development and delivery of oral health promotion for Aboriginal people, including children in Australia.”

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