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A new research unit focusing on improving the dental health of Indigenous Australians will be officially opened at the University of Adelaide today.
The Indigenous Oral Health Unit will address what has been termed 'the silent epidemic' in Australia, with oral health diseases in Indigenous communities costing Federal and State Governments billions of dollars each year.
The unit will be led by Dr Lisa Jamieson, a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre of Population Oral Health (ARCPOH) which is based within the University of Adelaide.
'Indigenous dental services currently cost Australia $200 million a year, yet too little research has been conducted on what works and why,' Dr Jamieson says.
'This unit will raise the profile of oral health among Aboriginal people and hopefully make it a priority for policy makers.'
Two Indigenous researchers will be employed within the unit and based at Port Augusta, where 20% of the population are Aboriginal Australians. The remainder of the staff will be based in Adelaide and research collaborations will also be undertaken with universities in the United States, New Zealand, Canada and interstate.
'Oral health mirrors general health,' Dr Jamieson says. 'Loss of teeth is associated with impaired eating and reduced nutritional status, as well as disorders such as anaemia and gastrointestinal disturbances.'
A growing body of scientific evidence also suggests an association between oral infections and a whole range of health problems including arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, pre-term and low weight babies, pulmonary diseases, arthritis, diabetes, HIV and osteoporosis.
'Collectively, oral diseases and disorders in the Australian Indigenous population create substantial pain and suffering, disability and - in certain cases - death. These are public health issues which should concern all Australians,' Dr Jamieson says.
ARCPOH is currently working on four NHMRC-funded projects relating to Indigenous oral health, totalling almost $4.5 million. These include intervention projects to reduce chronic dental disease among Indigenous children; a research study to determine the link between periodontal disease and heart disease among Indigenous adults; and an oral health literacy program to improve dental caries in Port Augusta.
Dr Jamieson says the new unit will work closely with Indigenous communities to improve oral health with programs that are not only practical and effective, but also culturally sensitive for Aboriginal people.