RESEARCHING are urging a more cohesive approach to dental health in rural and remote WA after finding disturbing levels of tooth decay among preschoolers.
Published in Rural and Remote Health, the study, ‘Oral health of preschool children in rural and remote Western Australia’ involved 253 children in Carnarvon, Wiluna, Roebourne, Kalgoorlie and Esperance.
Among its key findings: 40 per cent of children aged 2 to 4 had one or more decayed tooth, 15 per cent had experienced toothache and 19 per cent had severe early childhood caries (s-ECC).
Also known as baby bottle tooth decay, or bottle rot, s-ECC is a caused by high levels of the common mouth bacteria streptococcus mutans and high levels of sugars in the mouth as occurs when liquids such as milk, formula, fruit juice or soft drink are allowed to linger on an infant’s teeth.
Within the study, s-ECC was strongly linked to soft drinks and children going to sleep with a bottle.
Curbing these habits, coupled with good oral hygiene, brushing and the use of fluoride can help with prevention.
In rural WA, however, not enough is being done.
“Severe decay is the fifth most common cause of hospitalisation among preschool children in WA,” says Dr Estie Kruger, Associate Professor at UWA’s Centre for Rural and Remote Oral Health.
“The prevalence is 1.3 times higher in rural and remote areas.
“A systemic approach to addressing the needs of remote dwelling people—and in particular remote area Indigenous children—must include a sustained, evidence-based, primary health focus that is inclusive of oral health.”
The study notes tooth decay to be far higher among Indigenous children than non-Indigenous children, with 69 per cent showing decay. Twenty-eight per cent suffered toothache (compared to only 7 per cent for non-Indigenous children) and 34 per cent had s-ECC.
Only half of the Indigenous children brushed their teeth on a daily basis and one-third had never brushed at all.
The study also highlights a low percentage of children across the State visiting a dentist before the age of five when they gain access to WA’s publically funded School Dental Service program.
This is attributed to cost, lack of awareness and access issues, particularly in remote areas such as the Kimberley and Pilbara.
“Our study found a significant burden of unmet need in the children examined, representing a significant level of pain and suffering in this group.”