A recent study by Adelaide University researchers has yielded some troubling insights about the state of dental health among young children across Australia.
How Soon Do Kids Get Cavities
The team conducted a major nationwide study, giving dental exams to 24,000 children who were randomly chosen from communities across the country. Children’s tooth decay was found to be a serious problem: nearly half of all the six year olds examined presented with signs of dental disease.
Though disturbing, the researchers expressed that the reasons behind the high numbers of kids with tooth decay are clear.
Australia has a sweet tooth
Professor Loc Do explained that sugary drinks and foods are a big part of the problem causing children’s cavities. Consuming too much sugar is directly tied to child tooth decay, and a separate recent study unveiled the fact that 70% of children between the ages of four and eight consume more sugar every day than the amount recommended by the World Health Organization.
The WHO recommends consuming less than 12 teaspoons of sugar per day — less than the sugar content of one 600 mL soft drink. The limit is regularly exceeded by the majority of children (and the percentage goes up to 75% of nine to 13 year olds). The researchers blame the many types of beverages on the market with significant amounts of added sugar — even ones like sports drinks that are marketed to suggest they’re healthy.
Hygiene is lacking
Not only are many kids with tooth decay consuming too much sugar, but large numbers of them are also not practicing proper dental hygiene. According to Professor Do, one third of children don’t brush their teeth regularly. One quarter of the patients found to have signs of child tooth decay had never had it treated by a dentist.
Yet many are forced to seek emergency care when the situation becomes serious — dental disease is currently the third most common cause of preventable hospital admissions. Poor diets paired with insufficient preventive care has resulted in the growing problem of childhood tooth decay.
A political problem
The issue of cavities in children is tied up in political debates as well. Low income children and children from indigenous communities make up a large swath of those suffering from poor oral health. The Child Dental Scheme, a program providing $1000 of free dental care to children, was cut just weeks before the findings of this study were announced.
Children are now covered by public state-run dental schemes, but waiting lists are long and the Australian Dental Association says the funding is not enough to provide adequate care. As a result, children of low-income families who cannot afford dentist bills on their own are not being treated for their cavities.
Though the causes are manifold, it’s clear that the country has a serious problem when it comes to dental health among children — a problem that doesn’t go away as kids age. Researchers say that in order to improve oral health nationwide, it’s important for parents to be mindful of their children’s diets and regular preventive dental care.
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My name is Jeremy Rourke. I’m part of a family of dentists with my father, brother, cousin and nephew also being dentists. I won a University of Sydney Dental Alumni prize for being the top student in my year and graduated with Honours in 1971. I have been a Registered dentist for over 40 years. In that time I have created a few “firsts” in my efforts to stay ahead.