School is back, and there is plenty for Waikato youngsters to be smiling about with the release of new dental statistics for the region.
Waikato District Health Board has released its provisional oral health statistics for 2011, and the results show a significant improvement in the oral health of the region’s five-year-olds.
Last year almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of five-year-olds were free of tooth decay; a marked improvement since 2004 when only one-third of five-year-olds (34 per cent) were caries-free.
In 2010 half (50 per cent) of five-year-olds were decay-free.
The data, collected at dental examinations by dental therapists and assistants, tracks the dental health of new entrants (five-year-olds) and Year Eight students (aged 12 or 13).
Data has been published at a national level since 1990.
Waikato DHB Community Oral Health Service Manager Diane Pevreal says she is delighted that the Waikato DHB has exceeded its targets for improving the oral health of five-year-olds.
“This is the highest proportion of five-year-olds who have been caries-free since Waikato DHB statistics were first published,” says Pevreal. “We’ve had quite a significant improvement.”
“Among five-year-olds we’ve been poorer than average for quite some years, but by comparing our statistics with other DHBs we predict we will be above average now, so that’s been a significant shift in the last year.”
Among Maori five-year-olds, there was a massive improvement, with 41 per cent decay-free in 2011 (an improvement from 27 cent since 2010).
“There is a still a gap between Maori children and others, but the gap has reduced,” says Pevreal.
Year 8 students’ results for 2011 are similar to the previous year. In 2011 54 per cent of Year 8 students were decay-free, similar to 2010 (56 per cent).
Pevreal says the consistent improvement in the oral health of Waikato five-year-olds is, in part, due to Waikato DHB campaigns and its oral health strategy, which has led to heightened awareness of children’s dental health across the health sector and a real focus on preschool as the time when the biggest change can be effected.
The use of topical fluoride in early childhood centres has had good results, says Pevreal. “That’s been really significant – topical fluoride applied every six months has been shown to reduce decay by 30-40 per cent (among preschoolers).”
“Also, increased enrolment in our service (Waikato DHB’s Community Oral Health Services), including preschoolers from birth onwards, is helping. People are picking up the oral health message,” says Pevreal.
Children from birth to 17 can access to free basic oral health services by calling 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583) or 07 859 9160.
But while the results are good news, Pevreal says parents shouldn’t be complacent about children’s oral health.
“While we are thrilled with the results, it still means that about 40 per cent of five-year-olds have decay, and among those children it’s quite often more than one tooth affected by decay,” says Pevreal. “It’s, on average, three teeth adversely affected.”
“We refer 700 children a year to undergo general anaesthetic (to remove teeth) which, although slightly less than last year, is really traumatic for children. One out of every two five-year-olds with tooth decay has had teeth extracted.”
The loss of first teeth is a concern. “’Baby teeth’ serve an important function as guides for permanent (adult) teeth – without them there is a higher risk of crooked teeth coming through – and absent teeth also impact communication, including how to talk and making sounds, as well as eating, aesthetics and self-image,” says Pevreal. “Even young children give their peers a hard time if their teeth don’t look great, and children quickly become self-conscious about their smile.”
Pevreal says good oral health starts at home.
She says there are four simple things parents can do to improve the oral health of their children:
- “Use adult strength toothpaste on children’s teeth, just manage the amount you put on the brush,” says Pevreal. Use a tiny amount of adult strength toothpaste on brushes for toddlers and preschoolers. Remember that children up to the age of eight need help with brushing their teeth.
- “Brush teeth twice a day, and don’t rinse the residue off,” recommends Pevreal. Toothpaste needs time to strengthen teeth so rinsing the residue off lessens its effect.
- “Teeth need a break from food and sweet treats,” says Pevreal. “Don’t graze on food all day.” With the school holidays over, it’s time to get back into a healthy eating and brushing regime, and limit treat foods to meal times and real treats. If given daily, it’s not a treat any more.
- “Continue to access dental health services and get regular checkups,” says Pevreal. All children (including preschoolers) and adolescents up to 17 can access free dental care. Call 0800 TALK TEETH (0800 825 583) to make an appointment or get advice.
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