Australian study notes increase in decay among children

Aug. 31, 2007
Analysis reveals that children under 5 years had the lowest dentist visitation rates, with only 18 percent visiting a dentist in the last financial year.

Tooth Decay Eating Away at Our Kids, According to Recent Analysis by HBA

Recent analysis of the dental habits of more than 200,000 children under age 25 revealed that 60 percent did not visit a private dentist in the last financial year. This comes amid findings that tooth decay has become the single most common chronic disease among children.1

Recent membership data by HBA, Australia's third largest health fund, showed that children under 5 years had the lowest dentist visitation rates, with only 18 percent visiting a dentist in the last financial year. This is despite the Australian Dental Association's recommendation that children should visit the dentist every six to 12 months from the age of one to prevent dangerous tooth decay.2

Of those under five who did visit a dentist, three percent had one or more teeth removed and more than 20 percent received an average of three fillings.

HBA Dental Advisor Dr. Peter Clarke said a child's access to regular dental care was critical in the prevention of dental disease and to treating disease in its early stages.

"Early prevention, through diet, correct brushing practices and regular dental check-ups, can reduce the effects of oral disease, so it is alarming that so many children are not visiting the dentist regularly," Dr. Clarke said.

The HBA analysis of children who visited a dentist in the past financial year showed that:

• more than 36 percent of children under 25 received a filling, with an average of three fillings each

• 38 percent of children aged 6 to 10 years received a filling

• 66 percent of young adults aged 21 to 24 received an average of 2.8 fillings each

• children aged 16 to 20 had the highest average number of teeth removed - three

• more than 23 percent of young adults aged 21 to 24 years had an average of two teeth removed by a dentist

• only four percent of children under 25 received a custom-made mouthguard for protection when playing contact sports

In the past three years the number of children under 25:

• requiring fillings increased by 10 percent

• having a tooth removed increased by 5 percent

• who did visit the dentist in the past financial year, did so an average of 3.5 times and were treated with an average of four dental procedures at each visit.

Professor John Spencer, Director Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health, said oral diseases were mostly preventable, yet tooth decay was on the rise in Australian children. "Tooth decay in the first or deciduous teeth in 6-year-olds increased by 56 percent, and permanent tooth decay in 14- and 15-year-olds increased by 71 percent during the period 1996 to 2002," he said.

"Primary school children may visit a school dental clinic, but this isn't as common in the preschool and secondary years," he added.

The Child Dental Health Survey reported that over 40 percent of 12-year-olds have some history of decay in their permanent teeth — that is, one or more decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth.3 "Increased consumption of non-tap water drinks — for instance soft drinks, which may be both acidic and sugary — or bottled water, which does not contain fluoride, are major factors in the high level of tooth decay in children," Prof. Spencer said.

"The massive increase in decay is disappointing because it begins to reverse 25 years of improvement in dental health after fluoride was introduced to water systems in the early 1970s," he added.

Mark Engel, HBA General Manager of Corporate Development, said HBA was aiming to reverse the declining oral health among Australian children. "Visiting a dentist regularly is a key way to prevent dental disease, so from now on HBA will cover general and major dental procedures for children under 25 at more than 900 Members First dentists," Mr. Engel said.

HBA's new dental benefit covers more than 250 dental procedures such as cleaning, examinations, fillings and X-rays, possibly saving a family with two children an average of $276 a year in out-of-pocket costs.4

"This new dental benefit means HBA now provides the most comprehensive dental coverage for Australian families, allowing children to visit the dentist more regularly," Mr. Engel said.

HBA is Australia's third largest health fund , covering more than one million Australians, with a national market share of 10.3 percent. HBA is the second largest private health fund in Victoria with 22.9 percent market share. The fund operates as Mutual Community in the Northern Territory and South Australia, where it is market leader with 43.6 percent market share.


1. Australia's Health 2006, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2006

2. Delivery of Oral Health Care Special Groups: Children Policy Statement, Australian Dental Association Inc.

3. The Child Dental Health Survey, Australian Research Centre for Oral Health, 2001

4. HBA - Average out of pocket cost $46 per dental visit, three visits per year, children under 25 years, General and Major Dental