Dental Decay Recognised as a Chronic Disease

By Petrina Smith
Monday, 30 June, 2014

Dental decay is a chronic disease. Dentists have always known it. Now the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has confirmed it in their report: Australia’s Health 2014.

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) welcomes the AIHW findings and supports the call for greater effort on preventive measures to reduce the burden of this disease on individuals and the Australian economy.

The AIHW report states that expenditure on oral disease puts it into one of the four most expensive disease groups to treat and recent trends suggest increased consumption of bottled water, sports and soft drinks plus changes to diet are having a negative impact on oral health, particularly in children.

“As dentists, we see first-hand the growing rate of dental decay and disease. With the increasing rate of dental decay in children, we are particularly concerned about the oral health of future generations”, stated Dr Karin Alexander, ADA President.  “As the report states, poor childhood oral health is a strong predictor of poor adult oral health and with more than half of all six-year-olds showing decay in their baby teeth, we need everyone to sit up and take action to halt these trends”.
The ADA has repeatedly called on the Australian Government to increase its investment in oral health promotion and prevention initiatives.  The Australian Government must work with States and Territories to increase the proportion of Australian communities who have access to fluoridated water supplies, as fluoride is scientifically proven to be one of the most effective population health measures available to reduce the incidence of dental decay.
The ADA has also called for greater investment in early intervention measures particularly for disadvantaged Australians. A number of States and Territories have been issuing vouchers to patients on public waiting lists so  they can receive treatment  from  private dentists , an initiative funded in part by the additional funding available under National Partnership Agreements which has seen recent dramatic reductions on public waiting lists. However, these programmes are under threat because of reduced NPA funding from 1 July 2014.
“Dental disease continues to rate high on the list of potentially preventable hospitalisations (PPHs) that could have been avoided with timely and adequate care” added Dr Alexander. “With so much workforce capacity existing in the private sector, there is little reason to hinder public dental services from continuing to outsource care to private dentists for patients. Public patients must continue to be treated early before their disease is severe enough to require hospitalisation.”
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