How Australians are really going with caring for our teeth

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: The increasing prevalence of tooth decay and gum disease among Australian adults are disturbuing new trends in the nation's oral health.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: The increasing prevalence of tooth decay and gum disease among Australian adults are disturbuing new trends in the nation's oral health.

Australian adults are keeping their teeth for longer - but one in three of us is walking around with untreated tooth decay.

These are just some of the findings from the 2020 Adult Oral Health Trackerprogress report to be re-released in the lead-up to Dental Health Week (3-9 August 2020).

The tracker is produced by the Australian Dental Association (ADA) in collaboration with the Mitchell Institute every two years.

Dental Health Weekis the ADA's annual oral health campaign.

"The Oral Health Tracker 2020 provides an update on how Australian adult oral health is tracking compared to the previous results in 2018 and against the targets set for 2025," ADA Oral Health Promoter Dr Mikaela Chinotti said.

"The results are in, and for gum disease and tooth decay, they're not good. These conditions are largely preventable, yet they've increased in prevalence and we continue to get further away from our goal of improving Australia's overall oral health."

Other findings

  • The number of adults with untreated and potentially painful tooth decay has increased sizeably from a quarter of adults to around a third of adults (25.5 per cent to 32.1 per cent);
  • Adults with periodontal pockets (4mm) which can lead to tooth loss, shot up from 19.8 per cent to 28.8 per cent;
  • Adults reporting toothache in the last 12 months went up by one quarter, from 16.2 per cent in 2018 to 20.2 per cent in 2020;
  • Just under half (48.8 per cent) of adults surveyed had visited a dentist for a checkup in the last 12 months, a drop of 6.7 per cent since 2018;
  • Only 53 per cent of us are brushing twice a day;
  • Australians are keeping their teeth for longer, with the number of adults with fewer than 21 teeth dropping from 15.5 per cent to 10.2 per cent;
  • Rates of adult oral cancers have remained almost static at 10.3 people per 100,000.

Overall, the findings show that Australians are keeping their teeth for longer but at the same time the ADA is seeing more disease.

"For tooth decay and gum disease we need to be targeting the causes - like poor oral hygiene and free sugar consumption, which includes added sugars, honey, syrups and fruit juice," Dr Chinotti said.

For many Australians, free sugar consumption is still well above the WHO's recommended 6 teaspoons (24 grams) a day limit and this is affecting quality of life by causing tooth decay.

"Not only do individual behaviours need to change, but so too do government policies affecting oral health," Dr Chinotti added. "An example of this is the introduction of a levy on sugar- sweetened beverages which the ADA would like to see."

Throughout 2020 the ADA is executing a number of strategies in a bid to improve Australia's oral health by putting a spotlight on sugar.

Measures include lobbying the government to create a levy on sugar-sweetened beverages, educating people about the harm sugar does to teeth, helping consumers better interpret food labels and understand where hidden sugars lurk.

"Given the findings, we're asking Australians to make their oral health a priority," said Dr Chinotti.

"This could include visiting the dentist, becoming sugar savvy by understanding ways to reduce free sugar intake or making a conscious effort to brush using fluoride toothpaste twice a day in a bid to reverse the negative trends identified in the 2020 Oral Health Tracker."

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