A new dental report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that most children had visited a dentist during the previous 12 months.
The report, Trends in access to dental care among Australian children, covered the period from 1994 to 2005, and showed that at least 4 in 5 children had visited a dentist in the last 12 months with children aged 5-11 years slightly more likely to visit than those aged 12-17.
'The percentage of older children (aged 12-17) who saw a private dentist remained steady at about 55%,' said Professor John Spencer of the AIHW's Dental Statistics and Research Unit.
'But among 5-11 year olds, there was a sharp increase in the percentage who saw a private practice dentist. The percentage increased from 40% in 2002 to 53% in 2005, reflecting a decline in the use of the School Dental Service,' he said.
Between 1996 and 2005, visiting for a check-up, rather than a problem, increased across both age groups, peaking in 2005 at 78% for 5-11 year olds and 81% for 12-17 year olds.
A higher percentage of children in families with a health care card and without private dental insurance visited for a problem.
When visiting a dentist, approximately 8% of 5-11 year olds had a tooth extracted. Among 12-17 year olds, prevalence fluctuated between a high of 15% in 1994 to a low of 9% in 2005.
Children who visited for a problem were more than twice as likely to have an extraction as those who usually visited for a check-up.
About 30% of children aged 5-11 years and 25% of children aged 12-17 years had a filling.
Cost was reported by a low percentage of families as a barrier in accessing dental care for children, with the percentage falling over the 1994-2005 period.
'Cost is not a substantial barrier to children visiting a dentist because of free or heavily subsidised School Dental Services in most States and Territories,' Professor Spencer said.