Preventative treatments decrease rate of tooth decay in Indigenous children

16 March 2021

A study from the University of Queensland School of Dentistry has found that tooth decay was reduced, and quality of life improved for a group of 200 Indigenous Australian children in remote north Queensland through a combination of preventative treatments. 

With Indigenous children in rural Australia experiencing rates of tooth decay up to three times that of other Australian children, and up to ten times for those with the most severe decay, the finding is especially important notes University of Queensland School of Dentistry researcher Associate Professor Ratilal Lalloo. 

“Children who had the health preventative procedures experienced fewer instances of severe new tooth decay compared to children who didn’t receive treatment,” Dr Lalloo said. 

“Access to dental services in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is extremely limited and therefore prevention of tooth decay is critical to address this significant health burden. 

“Tooth decay can affect overall health and nutrition; self-esteem and it can increase the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease.” 

The children involved in the study had their existing tooth decay treated before the application of dental sealants on vulnerable teeth, fluoride varnish and topical disinfectant that preference the growth of good bacteria. 

Emeritus Professor Newell Johnson from Griffith University’s School of Dentistry and Oral Health said the study showed the combination of topical treatments substantially improved the oral health and quality of life of the children. 

He also noted that primary health care workers such as community nurses and Aboriginal health workers can be trained to do these treatments over time with fly in/fly out oral health professionals were used over the course of the study. 

Dr Lalloo hopes the findings will lead to evidence-based policies and practices in preventing tooth decay in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia, including a reduction in the consumption of sugar-laden products such as soft drinks and mandatory water fluoridation. 

The research is part of a larger collaborative study funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia grant awarded to Griffith University involving researchers from University of Adelaide, James Cook University and The University of Queensland.