Many Australian adults are enjoying improved oral health, but some are still missing out, according to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) launched by the Hon Tony Abbott at the 32nd Australian Dental Congress in Sydney.
The report, Australia’s dental generations: the National Survey of Adult Oral Health 2004-06, provides a detailed snapshot of oral health in the adult population at the beginning of the twenty-first century, drawing primarily from a 2004-06 national survey in which 14,514 Australians from 15 to 98 years of age were interviewed, and 5,505 of them dentally examined.
The report shows that members of the fluoride generation (born since 1970) had about half the level of decay that their parents’ generation had developed by the time they were young adults.
‘This finding provides evidence that exposure to fluoride in water and in toothpaste during childhood produced substantial benefits for oral health among Australian adults,’ said Prof. Gary Slade, head of the AIHW’s Dental Statistics and Research Unit based at the University of Adelaide.
The average number of teeth affected by dental decay ranged from 4.5 teeth per person in the 1970-90 generation to 24.3 teeth per person in the pre-1930 generation.
When asked to rate their own oral health, 16% of Australians rated their oral health as fair or poor. Just over 15% said they had experienced toothache in the preceding 12 months, and about 17% said that they had avoided some foods due to problems with their teeth, mouth or dentures.
Many (30%) reported avoiding dental care due to cost, and about 20% said that cost had prevented them from having recommended dental treatment.
Adults with private dental insurance and people with relatively higher levels of schooling consistently had lower levels of oral disease and they were more likely to see a dentist regularly.
The report also showed, however, that dental visits were less frequent and oral diseases were more common among the elderly and among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
The findings provide evidence that supports Australia’s National Oral Health Plan which promotes broad fluoride use and places priority on three population groups: the elderly, low income and disadvantaged groups, and Indigenous Australians.