Dental report finds only half of all Australians brush their teeth twice a day
Only half of all Australians brush their teeth twice a day and it’s contributing to high levels of decay across the country, a report card on the nation’s dental health has found.
A leading think-tank has published the country’s first comprehensive Oral Health Tracker and found a series of damning statistics about the state of the population’s teeth.
It’s found 90 per cent of adults have some form of tooth decay, and risky alcohol consumption and smoking habits are contributing to poor oral health.
The Australian Health Policy Collaboration data also found almost three-quarters of children eat too much sugar and more than one-third of five-year-olds had decay in baby teeth.
Too many youngsters are also ending up in hospital with preventable dental problems, with children aged five to nine having the highest rates of admissions.
The Oral Health Tracker also found about one-quarter of teens had not had a dental check-up in 12 months.
Adults aged 18 to 35 and women were more likely to feature in the 51 per cent of adults who brush their teeth twice a day, with brushing habits dropping off as people aged.
Among adults, 15.5 per cent had severe tooth loss — meaning they had fewer than 21 teeth, rather than a full set of 32.
Professor Rosemary Calder is the director of the Australian Health Policy Collaboration and said the figures showed, “We’re not doing terribly well as a nation”.
“We’ve got a lot of preventable chronic disease, which is making us a very unwell nation and it’s only going to get worse,” she said.
“Very few people really understand that oral health links directly to physical and mental health.”
She said the statistics around child dental health were most troubling.
“Clearly we need to see how we can do better for Australia’s children,” Professor Calder said.
The president of the Australian Dental Association, Dr Hugo Sachs, said rates of dental decay were rising and a community-wide response was needed.
“We spend millions if not billions of dollars on unnecessary dentistry in this country,” he said. “There are vulnerable Australians that can’t gain access and something has to be done.”
Smoking, drinking, sugar are all bad for teeth
The report also highlights how much smoking and drinking are contributing to poor levels of oral health.
It showed 17.1 per cent of Australians engaged in “risky” drinking, which contributes to decay and is linked to some forms of cancer.
While smoking rates are dropping, there’s still 12.2 per cent of the population who are identified as smokers.
“It can get as bad as oral cancers and that leads to premature death,” Professor Calder said.
Dr Sachs said many people still did not realise the link between sugar consumption and tooth decay.
“A lot of people don’t go to the dentist until they have a significant problem,” he said.
“The reality is that if they attended regularly and undertook good oral hygiene, reduced their sugar intake and visited their dentist at least twice a year, a lot of these problems would disappear.”
Better food labelling and more research needed: experts
The experts said state and federal governments needed to fund more community education programs, particularly in disadvantaged areas.
They also said a program similar to the Child Dental Benefits Schedule was needed for the elderly.
Under this scheme, children whose parents qualified for Family Tax Benefit A or a government payment could get up to $1,000 free dental treatment.
They also wanted better labelling on foods so consumers could understand just how much sugar was in particular products.
“Packaging of goods doesn’t really declare the added sugars that occur within products and some of those are considered to be healthy,” Dr Sachs said.
Professor Calder said dental care needed to be considered as a part of overall health care.
“If we don’t improve this then we’re going to pay for it through hospital care,” she said.
Dr Sachs added that dental research was also grossly underfunded.
“Less than 0.5 per cent of research dollars goes into dentistry yet it is the most common preventable disease in Australia,” he said.
The Oral Health Tracker has been developed by dental academics, researchers, clinicians, policy and public health experts.
They’ve set 15 targets for adults and young people’s dental health, and plan to regularly report how Australia’s dental health is tracking.