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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin
 
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spacing1Review of Indigneous oral health

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Introduction

Oral health is a term used to describe the health of a person's teeth and gums. Good oral health means that a person can eat, speak, and socialise in comfort and not feel embarrassed about their teeth and gums [1]. Poor oral health can cause a lot of pain and affect a person's everyday life [2].

Oral health can also affect a person's general health; if a person has poor oral health it may affect other body systems like the cardiovascular system (heart and circulatory system) [3]. Poor oral health is also associated with diabetes [4], stroke [5], and giving birth to premature and low birthweight babies [6].

Two common diseases that occur in the mouth and affect oral health are caries and periodontal diseases (gum disease).

What is caries?

Caries, also known as cavities or tooth decay, is caused by bacteria that live in the mouth [7]. When a person eats sweet and sticky foods, these bacteria produce acid that decays (breaks down) the tooth's enamel (hard outer part of the tooth). If caries is found early it can be treated and there are no long-term effects. But if caries continues it will cause small holes that can be painful and require a filling. If the small holes are not treated, caries will continue to decay the tooth and cause carious lesions (large holes) that can make the whole tooth weak. If this happens, the tooth may need major treatment or have to be extracted (pulled out). If carious lesions are not treated they can infect the tooth's pulp (soft tissue inside the tooth, including the nerve and blood vessels). This can result in an abscess (swelling) and painful toothaches, and the tooth will probably have to be extracted [8].

How is caries measured?

Caries is measured by the DMFT index for permanent (adult) teeth and the dmft index for deciduous (baby) teeth [7]. These indices (measurements) are used by dentists to count how many teeth in a person's mouth are decayed (D/d), missing (M/m), and filled (F/f). Unfortunately, this scale only says how many teeth are affected, it cannot tell the difference between a tooth with minor problems and a tooth with major problems. A more detailed measure, the DMFS/dmfs index, counts how many tooth surfaces (sides of the tooth) are decayed (D/d), missing (M/m), and filled (F/f). Counting the number of decayed/missing/filled surfaces of each tooth gives a lot more detail about how a person is affected by caries.

What are the protective and risk factors for caries and how do they affect Indigenous people?

There are a number of factors that make it more likely or less likely that a person will develop caries:

What are periodontal diseases?

Periodontal diseases, also known as gum disease, are infections of the gums and supporting tissues around the tooth [7]. Periodontal diseases are caused by poor oral care (people not brushing and flossing enough) but are preventable and treatable. Periodontal diseases can range from gingivitis (gums that are swollen and bleed when a person brushes their teeth) to severe periodontitis (which destroys all the bone around the tooth). Smoking can make periodontal diseases worse.

What are the protective and risk factors for periodontal diseases and how do they affect Indigenous people?

There are a number of factors that make it more likely or less likely for a person to develop periodontal diseases:

How common is caries among Indigenous children?

Indigenous children experience more caries in their deciduous (baby) teeth than do non-Indigenous children [18]. According to the Child dental health survey (CDHS) the average dmft score (how many teeth were decayed/missing/filled) for Indigenous children aged 4 to 10 years was significantly higher than for non-Indigenous children of the same age in NSW, SA, and the NT in 2000-2003 (Figure 1). The scores were highest for Indigenous 6-year-olds who had dmft scores more than two times higher than those of non-Indigenous children.

Figure 1 Average number of decayed, missing, and filled deciduous teeth for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children aged 4 to 10 years, NSW, SA and the NT, 2000-2003

Average number of decayed, missing, and filled deciduous teeth for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children aged 4 to 10 years

Source: Jamieson LM, Armfield JM, Roberts-Thomson KF, 2007 [18]

Indigenous children continued to have more caries when they got their permanent (adult) teeth [18]. The DMFT scores were higher for Indigenous children aged 6-15 years than for non-Indigenous children of the same age in NSW, SA and the NT in 2000-2003 (Figure 2). The scores were highest for Indigenous fifteen-year-olds who had average DMFT scores one-and-a-half times higher than those of non-Indigenous fifteen-year-olds.

Figure 2 Average number of decayed, missing, and filled permanent teeth for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children aged 6 to 15 years, NSW, SA and the NT, 2000-2003

Average number of decayed, missing, and filled permanent teeth for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children aged 6 to 15 years, NSW, SA and the NT, 2000-2003

Source: Jamieson LM, Armfield JM, Roberts-Thomson KF, 2007 [18]

Where children live affects their oral health

Caries is more common in rural and remote areas than in major cities [18]. The Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child oral health in remote communities found that Indigenous children in rural and remote areas had the worst oral health (highest dmft and DMFT scores) of all Australian children, followed by Indigenous children in cities. Non-Indigenous children in rural/remote areas and living in cities had similar levels of oral health, with dmft/DMFT scores lower than those for Indigenous children in the same locations.

Hospital treatment for dental problems

Sometimes people need to go into the hospital to get dental treatment. The Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child oral health in remote communities found that, while rates for hospital care were similar for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, rates were around one-and-a-half times higher for children living in rural areas than for children living in cities [18]. This may be because there are fewer dental services in rural areas. It is likely that more extractions are necessary in rural areas because more children have teeth that cannot be restored (saved) or because, if their treatment was unsuccessful, it would be too long before they are able see a dentist again.

While hospitalisation rates were similar for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, the ages that Indigenous and non-Indigenous children went into hospital were quite different [18]. More than one-half of Indigenous children were less than five years old when they went to the hospital for dental treatment, compared with around one-third of non-Indigenous children (Figure 3). Children may need to go to the hospital for dental treatment because they may have a lot of serious caries in their deciduous teeth that will need extraction. In these cases, dentists often use general anaesthesia (put people 'under' or to 'sleep' temporarily) to reduce the distress for the child.

Figure 3 Proportions (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children receiving hospital dental care, by age-group (years), Qld, WA, SA and the NT, 2002-03

Proportions (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children receiving hospital dental care, by age-group (years), Qld, WA, SA and the NT, 2002-03

Source: Jamieson LM, Armfield JM, Roberts-Thomson KF, 2007 [18]

How common is caries among Indigenous adults?

Caries is much more common for Indigenous adults than for non-Indigenous adults [11]. According to the NSAOH, Indigenous adults had more than two times more untreated caries than did non-Indigenous adults in 2004-2006. This means that more than one-half of the Indigenous adults who were surveyed had untreated caries compared with one-quarter of the non-Indigenous adults. The Aboriginal birth cohort (ABC) study, conducted in the NT in 2006-2007, found that Indigenous adults (aged 17-20 years) had, on average, eight times more decayed teeth than non-Indigenous adults from the NSAOH [20].

Indigenous adults have more severe caries than non-Indigenous adults [11]. According to the NSAOH, Indigenous adults had more than three times more decayed tooth surfaces than non-Indigenous adults in 2004-2006. The greatest difference was seen among Indigenous people aged 35-54 years who had five times more decayed tooth surfaces than non-Indigenous people of the same age. When comparing the ABC Indigenous adults with the NSAOH non-Indigenous adults, the average number of decayed tooth surfaces was almost 11 times higher for Indigenous adults aged 17-20 years than for non-Indigenous adults of the same age [20].

Indigenous adults have fewer fillings than non-Indigenous adults [20]. Fewer fillings and higher levels of caries suggest that Indigenous people do not use oral health services as much as non-Indigenous people.

How common are periodontal diseases among Indigenous children?

Children do not develop severe periodontal disease often but many children develop gingivitis (a mild periodontal disease). According to the CDHS, gingival bleeding (a common symptom of gingivitis) was more common among Indigenous children than among non-Indigenous children in SA and NSW [18]. In SA in 2003, Indigenous children aged 6 to 15 years had higher levels of gingival bleeding than non-Indigenous children at every age; it was highest for Indigenous twelve-year-olds (Figure 4).

Figure 4 Proportion (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children with gingival bleeding, SA, 2003

Proportion (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children with gingival bleeding, SA, 2003

Source: Jamieson LM, Armfield JM, Roberts-Thomson KF, 2007 [18]

In NSW in 2000, very few Indigenous and non-Indigenous children aged 4 to 11 years had gingival bleeding, but for children aged 12 to 14 years, almost three times more Indigenous children than non-Indigenous children had gingival bleeding (Figure 5) [18].

Figure 5 Proportion (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children aged 4 to 14 years with gingival bleeding, NSW, 2000

Proportion (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children aged 4 to 14 years with gingival bleeding, NSW, 2000

Source: Jamieson LM, Armfield JM, Roberts-Thomson KF, 2007 [18]

How common are periodontal diseases among Indigenous adults?

Indigenous adults are more likely to suffer from periodontal diseases than non-Indigenous adults, especially at younger ages [11]. According to the NSAOH, more than one-in-four Indigenous adults aged 15-75 years had gingival inflammation (swollen gums; a mild periodontal disease), compared with one-in-five non-Indigenous adults. For moderate or severe periodontitis, there were similar proportions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults 15-75 years. But, when looking only at younger adults (aged 15-34 years), Indigenous people were twice as likely to have moderate or severe periodontitis as non-Indigenous people (Figure 6).

Figure 6 Proportion (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults with moderate or severe periodontitis, 2004-2006, Australia

Proportion (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults with moderate or severe periodontitis, 2004-2006, Australia

Source: Slade GD, Spencer AJ, Roberts-Thomson, KF, 2007 [11]

Deep periodontal pocket (a gap between the tooth and gum that provides a place for bacteria to live and breed) is an indicator of advanced periodontal disease. While Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults surveyed in the NSAOH had similar levels of deep periodontal pockets at all ages, more young Indigenous adults (aged 15-34 years) were affected than non-Indigenous adults of the same age (18% compared with 13%) [11].

A comparison of the ABC and NSAOH studies found more dramatic differences in periodontal diseases among Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people aged 17-20 years [20][21]. Indigenous people were more likely than non-Indigenous people to have calculus deposits (build up of minerals on the tooth that is a risk indicator for periodontal diseases), gingivitis, moderate or severe periodontal disease, and deep periodontal pockets (Figure 7).

Figure 7 Prevalence (%) of periodontal risk factors for Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults aged 17-20 years, Australia, 2004-2007

Prevalence (%) of periodontal risk factors for Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults aged 17-20 years, Australia, 2004-2007

Source: Jamieson LM, 2010 [20], Jamieson LM, Sayers SM, Roberts-Thomson KF, 2010 [21]
Note: Prevalence is the percentage of people with the condition.

What is known about tooth loss?

The two main reasons why people lose teeth are:

Complete tooth loss (when a person loses all their teeth) can be caused by poor oral hygiene or by treatment that relies on extractions rather than saving teeth. In Australia, older people are much more likely to have complete tooth loss than young people [11]. In 2004-2006, Indigenous adults aged 35-54 years were five times more likely to have lost all of their teeth than non-Indigenous adults of the same age (Figure 8). The proportions were similar for Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults 75 years and older.

Figure 8 Proportion (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults with complete tooth loss, 2004-2006, Australia

Proportion (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults with complete tooth loss, 2004-2006, Australia

Source: Slade GD, Spencer AJ, Roberts-Thomson, KF, 2007 [11]

What other oral health problems do Indigenous people experience?

Some oral health problems are not as easy to identify as caries and periodontal diseases The NSAOH found that [11]:

What oral health services are available for Indigenous people?

There are two main kinds of oral health services: health promotion services and oral health treatment.

Oral health promotion

Health promotion services are designed to give people information about how to prevent, manage, or treat health problems. There are some organisations in Australia that have developed oral health promotion resources and programs for Indigenous people. Some of these organisations are part of the government, like the Queensland Department of Health Oral Health Unit. Examples of oral health promotion resources that have been specially developed for Indigenous people include:

Oral health treatment

There are three main types of oral health treatment services available to Indigenous people in Australia:

Some patients may be eligible to get funded treatment through the following schemes:

What are the barriers to good oral health for Indigenous people?

Indigenous people experience many barriers to good oral health including:

References

  1. Dental and Ophthalmic Services Division (2005) Choosing better oral health: an oral health plan for England. London: Department of Health, UK
  2. Mason J, Pearce MS, Walls AW, Parker L, Steele JG (2006) How do factors at different stages of the lifecourse contribute to oral-health related quality of life in middle age for men and women?. Journal of Dental Research; 85(3): 257-261
  3. Ylöstalo PV, Järvelin MR, Laitinen J, Knuuttila ML (2006) Gingivitis, dental caries and tooth loss: risk factors for cardiovascular diseases or indicators of elevated health risks. Journal of Clinical Periodontology; 33(2): 92-101
  4. Taylor GW, Bornakke WS (2008) Periodontal disease: associations with diabetes, glycemic control and complications. Oral Diseases; 14(3): 191-203
  5. Joshipura KJ, Hung HC, Rimm EB, Willet WC, Ascherio A (2003) Periodontal disease, tooth loss and incidence of ischemic stroke. Stroke; 34(1): 47-52
  6. Xiong X, Buekens P, Fraser WD, Beck J, Offenbacher S (2006) Periodontal disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology; 113(2): 135-143
  7. Harford J, Spencer J, Roberts-Thomson K (2003) Oral health. In: Thomson N, ed. The health of Indigenous Australians. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press: 313-338
  8. Yeng T, Messer HH, Parashos P (2007) Treatment planning the endodontic case. Australian Dental Journal; 52(s1): S32–S37
  9. Northern Territory Department of Health (2011) Healthy smiles: oral health and fluoride varnish information for health professionals. Darwin: Northern Territory Department of Health
  10. Ehsani JP, Bailie R (2007) Feasibility and costs of water fluoridation in remote Australian Aboriginal communities. BMC Public Health; (7): 100 Retrieved 8 June 2007 from http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2458-7-100.pdf
  11. Slade GD, Spencer AJ, Roberts-Thomson KF (2007) Australia's dental generations: the national survey of adult oral health 2004-06. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  12. Kim Seow W (1997) Effects of preterm birth on oral growth and development. Australian Dental Journal; 42(2): 77–133
  13. Pascoe L, Seow K (1994) Enamel hypoplasia and dental caries in Australian Aboriginal children: prevalence and correlation between the two diseases. Pediatric Dentistry; 16(3): 193-199
  14. Lai PY, Seow WK, Tudehope DI, Rogers Y (1997) Enamel hypoplasia and dental caries in very-low birthweight children: a case-controlled, longitudinal study. Pediatric Dentistry; 19(1): 42-49
  15. Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (2008) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework report 2008. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing
  16. Do LG, Slade GD, Roberts-Thomson KF, Sanders AE (2008) Smoking-attributable periodontal disease in the Australian adult population. Journal of Clinical Periodontology; 35(5): 398-404
  17. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006) National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Australia, 2004-05. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics
  18. Jamieson LM, Armfield JM, Roberts-Thomson KF (2007) Oral health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Canberra: Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH)
  19. Jamieson LM, Bailie RS, Beneforti M, Koster CR, Spencer AJ (2006) Dental self-care and dietary characteristics of remote-living Indigenous children. Rural and Remote Health; 6: 503 Retrieved from
  20. The oral health of young Indigenous Australian adults (2010) Jamieson LM
  21. Jamieson LM, Sayers SM, Roberts-Thomson KF (2010) Clinical oral health outcomes in young Australian Aboriginal adults compared with national-level counterparts. Medical Journal of Australia; 192(10): 558-561
  22. Jamieson LM, Parker EJ, Richards L (2007) Using qualitative methodology to inform an Indigenous-owned oral health promotion initiative in Australia. Health Promotion International; 23(1): 52-59
  23. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008) Population characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians: 2006. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics
  24. Jamieson LM, Roberts-Thomson KF, Sayers SM (2010) Risk indicators for severe impaired oral health among Indigenous Australian young adults. BMC Oral Health; 10(1):
  25. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009) National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social survey, 2008. Retrieved 11 April 2011 from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4714.0?OpenDocument

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This product, excluding the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet logo, artwork, and any material owned by a third party or protected by a trademark, has been released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence. Excluded material owned by third parties may include, for example, design and layout, images obtained under licence from third parties and signatures.

 

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