Australian teeth worst in developed world
A NATIONAL advertising campaign similar to the successful Slip, Slop, Slap push against skin cancer is needed to stop the nation's teeth from rotting, says the Australian Dental Association.
The association wants the Federal Government to take overriding responsibility for promoting dental health as figures reveal that Australia has the highest tooth extraction rate in the developed world.
The average Australian will suffer serious decay in at least 10 teeth by their late 30s.
And our overall dental health is second-lowest among developed nations.
"We have the second-worst health for adults and there are disturbing trends with kids at the moment," the association's president, Bill O'Reilly, said.
"Dental disease is completely preventable. If you have a good brushing and flossing routine, you shouldn't have a problem."
Dental experts say people with poor teeth endure ongoing pain, difficulty in eating and talking, gum disease and bad breath.
Decayed teeth have also been linked to premature, low- weight babies, heart disease, brain damage, diabetes and obesity.
Professor John Spencer of Adelaide University, who is conducting a new national audit of the country's teeth, has published two major reports on the state of the nation's teeth.
"Since the 1990s we have had some deterioration in oral health, which we think is due to lack of exposure to fluoride or due to increased exposure to dietary-rich factors," he said.
"The jury is out on which of those played a more significant role."
After fluoride was added to tap water in the 1960s and '70s, the rate of tooth decay plummeted. Many now think society's newfound love of bottled water and filtered tap water may be eating away at our teeth.
Sports drinks and fizzy drinks are likely to be even worse, Dr O'Reilly said.
The results of the audit will not be known for about 18 months.
However, a 2004 study by Professor Spencer found dental health was deteriorating, with a widening gap between the "haves and have-nots".
"There is nothing to suggest this has changed, only accelerated," he said.
Typically, low and middle-income earners have the poorest teeth and availability of care "either because of the inadequacies of the torn and tattered safety net of public dental services or their inability to purchase an adequate scope of private dental care", he said.
There are an estimated 650,000 pensioners and other healthcard holders on the national waiting list.
This week, the State Government announced that the wait here for general treatments had been cut to 23.5 months from 30.9 months, and for dentures to 22.4 months from 34.6 months.
A health union-commissioned Newspoll survey last week found 92 per cent believe Medicare should be expanded to include dental, with 4 per cent opposing.
The public waiting list grew after the Federal Government scrapped its dental scheme in 1996. It now funds only war veterans. Since then, the states have partially filled the shortfall but they argue the Commonwealth has a constitutional obligation to contribute more.
Professor Spencer argued that treatment was "rationed by delay, dilution (long waits encourage people to seek quicker, but less appropriate care) and price".
Nearly 60 per cent of all care from public dental services is emergency care, with more than a tooth per minute pulled every hour they are open.
Rural and regional areas are also about to be hit with a dentist shortage. The shortfall is partially being made up with foreign dentists, who are now here in record numbers.
"There are predictions that by 2010 we would be 1500 dentists short and that will be most acutely felt in rural and remote areas — the waiting lists in those areas are disastrous," Dr Reilly said. With
All I want for Christmas …
■By the time people reach their late 30s they will have at least 10 decayed teeth, almost a third of all their teeth.
■Australia has one of the worst dental health records in the world, though children under 12 have one of the best. Australia also has the highest tooth extraction rate in the developed world.
■Tooth decay fell after fluoride was added to water in the '60s and '70s. But a love of bottled water may be harming our teeth.
■The gap between dental "have and have-nots" is widening.
■There are about 650,000 on waiting lists, 110,579 in Victoria.
■The Federal Government stopped funding dental care, apart from veterans, in 1996.
SOURCE: AUSTRALIAN DENTAL ASSOCIATION, ADELAIDE UNIVERSITY and VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT
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