Australia fails dental report card with poor oral health

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Australia has failed its first national oral health check-up, with data showing almost half of adults don’t brush their teeth twice a day.

The Oral Health Tracker report, released by the Australian Dental Association and the Australian Health Policy Collaboration to coincide with World Oral Health Day, revealed that more than 90% of adults have some form of tooth decay, with risky alcohol consumption and smoking habits contributing to poor oral health.

The report identified that more than a quarter of all tooth decay in Australia is untreated, with 15.5% of Australians reporting severe tooth loss — meaning they have fewer than 21 teeth, rather than a full set of 32.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic health condition in the country, causing pain and discomfort, the report says.

Gum disease was also found to affect one in five adults (19.8%), which results in pockets between the gum and the teeth, and can cause inflammation and tooth loss. This is a huge problem because poor dental health is closely associated with poor health elsewhere in the body. It also contributes to illness, disability and death in Australia, according to the report.

The situation for children isn’t any better. Around three-quarters of children exceed the recommended sugar intake, which contributes to tooth decay. More than a third of five to six-year-olds have had decay in their baby teeth, the study found.

The Oral Health Tracker report also shows that about a quarter of children have not had a dental check-up in the last 12 months and too many are ending up in hospital with preventable dental problems. The figures show that children aged five to nine have the highest rates of admissions.

“This is an unacceptably high rate and puts these children at risk of poor oral health in their development and adult years,” said Dr Hugo Sachs, Federal President of the Australian Dental Association.

With poor oral health in children linked to a range of dental diseases in adulthood, it’s critical that the government works closely to ensure healthy oral health habits among the young, Dr Sachs added.

Oral health linked to physical and mental health

Director of the Australian Health Policy Collaboration at Victoria University, Professor Rosemary Calder, said that preventable tooth decay is not only painful, but very costly.

“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.

“We need to see how we can do better for Australia’s children,” Professor Calder said. “Preventable hospital admissions are of concern to all governments. One in ten preventable hospital admissions are due to dental conditions, mostly untreated tooth decay.”

The Oral Health Tracker report recommends several modest, achievable targets to improve the nation’s oral health by 2025, including a 30% reduction in people eating too much sugar, a 10% increase in twice-daily tooth brushing and a halt to the rise in adults losing more than 10 teeth.

There are plenty of ways to help prevent tooth decay, one of which is to start cutting out sugary food and drink, while also ensuring you brush your teeth for the recommended amount of time.

An electric toothbrush with an in-built timer may be a handy way to help maintain your white smile. A recent Canstar Blue survey of consumers who own an electric toothbrush found that almost half (48%) bought one to help get a superior clean, with 66% stating they’ll never go back to a normal toothbrush.

However, while 87% would recommend an electric toothbrush to a friend, almost a quarter of survey respondents (23%) weren’t as happy with the results, saying their electric toothbrush isn’t as effective as they thought it would be. So, no matter what toothbrush you have, the way you brush your teeth and for how long are the key components to a healthy smile.

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