Kids Oral Health in Australia: 5 Things Parents Should Know

Over 34.3% of Australian kids have tooth decay in their baby teeth as early as age 5 to 6. Reasons for this may include children’s higher daily intake of sugar and thinning teeth enamel due to vitamin deficiency, causing teeth to get more easily damaged.

Even worse, more than 27.1% of these kids left tooth decay untreated on their baby teeth. Although they’ll be naturally replaced, taking care of them is a must since they act as placeholders for the permanent teeth that’ll eventually come through.

This is why child oral health is still a significant population health concern in Australia in the 21st century. Besides poor oral hygiene, this health issue is determined by a complex interaction of economic, social, cultural, and environmental factors.

How Does Oral Health Vary for Different Populations in Australia?

Some populations in Australia experience the greatest burden of poor oral health. One reason for this is harder access to oral health care. For example, it’s easier to access a family-friendly dental clinic in the heart of Brunswick, a business district in the major city of Melbourne, than in Cape York, a remote area in far north Queensland.

Dental caries is another key indicator of the oral health status of the Australian population. Statistics have shown that dental caries, commonly known as dental cavities or tooth decay, in children aged 5-10 is found to be proportioned as higher for:

  1. residents from remote and very remote areas
  2. low-income households
  3. indigenous children

These kids, aged 5-10 and with dental cavities in their baby teeth, were found to be more likely to have last visited a dental clinic due to a dental problem (68%) than for a check-up (36%). One reason for this could be they opted to leave them untreated.

In fact, 27% of these kids had at least one deciduous tooth with untreated decay. The proportion was higher for:

  1. indigenous children (44%) than non-Indigenous children (26%)
  2. kids whose last dental visit was due to a dental problem (42%) than for kids who went for a check-up (22%)
  3. residents of remote and very remote areas (38%) than those in other cities
  4. low-income households (36%) than those from medium-income households (25%) and high-income households (18%)

As noticed, varying sociodemographic and socioeconomic profiles have caused different levels of dental caries in Australian kids to vary across states and territories. The differences in dental policies and programs in each jurisdiction are also possible factors.

However, this can be prevented by improving their oral hygiene. Parents play a significant role in a child’s oral hygiene practice. For starters, here are five things every Australian parent must know:

1. Dental Caries are the Most Common Chronic Disease in Childhood

Dental cavities are the most common non-communicable chronic disease in kids worldwide. It’s seven times more prevalent than hay fever, while five times for asthma. Yet, as mentioned, many Australian kids aged 5-11 leave them untreated.

Many parents hold on to the idea that kids’ teeth are just baby teeth, which get lost eventually. While it’s true, losing them early and improperly due to large cavities can cause their permanent teeth to not come into the correct spot or not erupt at all.

As stated, baby teeth act like permanent teeth placeholders. In other words, a permanent tooth needs the baby tooth on the gums to save space and guide it where it has to go. Otherwise, losing their baby teeth too early may cause severe crowding and a need for braces, which not all families in Australia can afford. It’s a relatively expensive dental treatment for something preventable (dental caries) from the start.

Moreover, while delayed tooth eruption is no real concern, crooked teeth are. They’re prone to health dangers. These include gum disease, heart problems, and TMJ or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that can cause pain and tenderness in chewing joints and muscles.

2. Most Kids Consume Too Much Sugar

Sugar is one of the valuable fuel sources for growing and active children. However, like anything in this world, too much of it is dangerous, and this is the case for most Australian kids.

Excess sugar doesn’t only contribute to dental caries and tooth decay but also associated health risks. It can primarily lead to obesity, which puts a kid at risk for elevated cholesterol levels, developing high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

To avoid these, parents must monitor their children’s sugar intake. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends that kids aged 2-18 years should have an equivalent of 19-25 grams of sugar a day.

Parents should also check nutritional labels carefully. Specifically, look for names like corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, and many more. They’re “hidden sugars” and must be avoided if you want to reduce sugar consumption in kids. Alternatively, make healthy swaps for snacks and drinks.

3. Many Kids Don’t Brush Their Teeth Properly

Tooth brushing is the most effective prevention measure against tooth decay. Properly doing it removes leftover sugars from tooth surfaces, preventing cavities and plaque from building up. However, only 68.5% of kids aged 5 to 14 brush their teeth correctly.

As reminders, here are ways to brush your teeth properly:

  1. Choose the right toothbrush. For sensitive gums, opt for soft bristles. For kids, use a child-sized toothbrush.
  2. Use fluoride toothpaste.
  3. Brush for two minutes, at least twice daily. Aim to brush for 30 seconds per section of your teeth.
  4. Brush at a 45-degree angle, in circles, gently.
  5. Rinse your mouth and brush
  6. Floss at least once a day

4. Many Kids Don’t Have Regular Dental Check-ups

Regular professional dental cleaning, fluoride treatments, and check-ups improve the chance of dental problems being caught and treated before they seriously damage kids’ oral health. However, only around half of the kids aged 0-5 visited a dentist.

Even if dental visits make them anxious, bring your kids to a dentist at least once a year and a dental hygienist for cleanings every six months. If you worry about the costs, they’re usually covered by the Australian Government’s Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS).

5. Poor Oral Health in Childhood Affects Adulthood

Neglecting oral health in childhood doesn’t only mean dealing with dental issues like toothaches at an early age. Research has shown that kids with cavities tend to miss more school and have lower grades. For example, when they experience tooth pain, their focus is negatively affected, resulting in lower academic performance, possibly affecting their future career success.

Final Thoughts

Properly toothbrushing should begin as soon as a kid gets their first tooth. Guide them until they control the brush themselves, usually around 8 or 9. Remember, much of oral hygiene comes from good home habits.