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The Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives: Australia’s National Oral Health Plan 2015–2024 has been prepared by the Oral Health Monitoring Group, a subcommittee of the Community Care and Population Health Principal Committee which reports through the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council to the COAG Health Council.
Oral health is fundamental to overall health, wellbeing and quality of life. A healthy mouth enables people to eat, speak and socialise without pain, discomfort or embarrassment.
The National Oral Health Plan outlines guiding principles that will underpin Australia’s oral health system and provides national strategic direction including targeted strategies in six Foundation Areas and across four Priority Populations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People being a priority population.
A proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have good oral health. On average, however, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience poor oral health earlier in their lifespan and in greater severity and prevalence than the rest of the population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also less likely to receive treatment to prevent or address poor oral health, resulting in oral health care in the form of emergency treatment.
- There is limited representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the oral health workforce and many dental services are not culturally sensitive. For example, strict appointment times and inflexibility regarding ‘failure to attend’ may result in a fee to the consumer.
- Trends indicate that the high-level dental decay in deciduous (baby) teeth is rising
- Aboriginal people aged 15 years and over, attending public dental services, experience tooth decay at three times the rate of their Non-Indigenous counterparts and are more than twice as likely to have advanced periodontal (gum) disease
- Aboriginal people experience complete tooth loss at almost five times the rate of the non-Indigenous population
- The rate of potentially preventable dental hospitalisations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is higher than other Australians. Accessibility of services is a key factor contributing to the current gap between the oral health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rest of the population.
- More than two in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 15 defer or avoid dental care due to cost. This is compared with one in eight (12.2%) who delayed or did not go to a GP.
Improving the overall oral health of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will require more than a focus on oral health behaviours. Culture, individual and community social and emotional wellbeing, history, demography, social position, economic characteristics, biomedical factors, and the available health services within a person’s community all form part of the complex causal web which determines an individual’s oral health status.