Across the population access for children appears less of a problem than access for adults. Around 80 per cent of children aged 5–17 visit the dentist every year, indicating a much more favourable rate than the adult population.105 Even measures of affordability are a relatively low, with around 10 per cent of parents indicating that the last dental visit had been a financial burden.106 This figure was slightly lower for 5–12 years olds and higher for 12–17 year olds, perhaps reflecting more potential for complex treatment in older children. For adults waiting times for public treatment are significant, while the same waits are not experienced by children. Children are given priority in accessing public dental services, although there are waiting times of around two years for extractions under a general anaesthetic in public hospitals.
105 Ellershaw, A.C. and Spencer, A.J. (2009), Trends in access to dental care among Australian children, AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Series, No.51, pp.29–31.
106 ibid, pp.57–61.
On the surface the access issue appears to indicate lower risk of oral disease for children. However, the Council views this area as more complex. Earlier chapters showed that the burden of disease in terms of caries is borne by a minority of children. Within this group there may be significant areas of social disadvantage which should be addressed.
Parental education and awareness – fear of dentist and lack of oral health education
The ability of parents to provide appropriate oral care, such as tooth brushing, can have an impact on the oral health of their children. Lack of parental confidence providing and modelling such behaviours is often linked to their lack of knowledge of the risk factors for early childhood caries (tooth decay).107 Parental roles and responsibilities in ensuring regular visits to dentists or clinics also play a role. Increased sugar intake and changes in diet may also contribute to increased decay. A study of children with caries (aged 4–7) found that they had a higher median intake of soft drinks than children without caries.108 Oral health promotion and education can help mitigate some of this risk. As oral health status in childhood is often a predictor of future dental problems, poor guidance by parents with regards to oral health can set children up to experience poor oral health for life.
107 Gussy, M.G., Waters, E.B., Riggs, E.M., Lo, S.K. and Kilpatrick, N.M. (2008), ‘Parental knowledge, beliefs and behaviours of oral health of toddlers residing in rural Victoria’, Australian Dental Journal, Vol. 53, pp.52–60.
108 NSW Centre for Public Health and Nutrition (2009), Soft Drinks, Weight Status and Health: A Review, p.22.