Gaping hole in Australian dental health is preventable

Children with limited exposure to fluoridated water and a high sugar intake are 70 per cent more likely to develop cavities in their permanent teeth, according to University of Queensland-led research.

Professor Loc Do from UQ’s School of Dentistry said a study of 24,664 Australian children raised particular concerns for young Queenslanders.

“The coverage of water fluoridation in Queensland is the lowest in the country, while our intake of free sugars is among the highest,” Professor Do said.

“We hope these results will convince policymakers in jurisdictions without fluoridated water to implement this effective and cost-saving community measure.

“We also hope to see the promotion of healthy behaviours like reducing the intake of sugars, which would both improve dental health and help prevent other conditions such as obesity.”

More than half of the 5 to 14-year-olds in the study were considered to have either low exposure to fluoridation (less than 25 per cent of their life) or medium exposure (between 25–75 per cent of their life).

Approximately 60 per cent of the children analysed consumed four or more daily servings of food or drinks high in free sugars.

Those who consumed more than four daily servings of high-sugar food or drinks but with high exposure to fluoridation were 40 per cent less likely to develop cavities in their baby teeth than those with low or medium fluoridation.

Likewise, those with a diet rich in sugars, but with high exposure to fluoridation were 50 per cent less likely to develop cavities in adult teeth than those with lower levels of fluoridation.

UQ lead-author Dr Diep Ha said it was well known that dental cavities are largely preventable, water fluoridation was effective, and high free-sugar intake was detrimental to child dental health.

“These facts are not surprising or new, but the results from almost 25,000 young people in this study show there is still a need to address these issues to improve child dental health in Australia,” Dr Ha said.

“To achieve maximum prevention of dental decay, lack of exposure to fluoridated water and high intake of sugars should be targeted.”

The research used data collected in the National Child Oral Health Study 2012-14, funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council Partnership Grant to The University of Adelaide and a collaboration with state/territory dental health services.

This research was a collaboration between UQ, The University of Adelaide and University of Otago and is published in the Journal of Dental Research (DOI: 10.1177/00220345211007747).

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