Good oral health is an integral part of good general health and wellbeing. Oral health can affect a person’s diet and nutrition and, as a result, their overall health, and can also have a range of social impacts.
Oral health refers to the condition of a person’s teeth and gums, as well as the health of the muscles and bones in their mouth. Poor oral health—mainly tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss—may result in a person experiencing pain, discomfort and feelings of embarrassment. They may also choose to avoid eating some foods and taking part in certain activities. Poor oral health is also associated with a range of diseases and conditions, such as heart and lung diseases, stroke, low birthweight and premature births (DHSV 2011).
Tooth loss can affect both oral function and appearance, and therefore negatively impact on quality of life. Tooth loss can reduce the functionality of the mouth, making chewing and swallowing more challenging, which in turn can compromise nutrition. On average, Australians aged 15 years and over are missing 5.7 teeth. The average number of missing teeth increases with age, from 3.2 for people aged 15–34 years up to 13 for people aged 75 years and over (Do L, Luzzi L 2019). Around 1 in 3 (35%) adults aged 15 years and over report feeling uncomfortable about their dental appearance (Brennan DS, Luzzi L et al 2019).
Poor adult oral health is strongly predicted by poor childhood oral health. Since the late 1970s, the oral health of children has improved in Australia, likely reflecting increased access to fluoridated drinking water and toothpaste, and improvements to preventive oral health services and dental hygiene practices. However, more recent trends suggest that children’s oral health may be deteriorating (Do LG, Luzzi L et al 2016). Around 1 in 4 (27%) children aged 5–10 years and around 1 in 10 (11%) children aged 6–14 years had at least one tooth with untreated decay (Ha DH, Roberts-Thomson KF et al 2016).
A dental visit can provide an opportunity for the provision of preventive dental care to maintain existing oral health, as well as treatment services that may reverse disease or rehabilitate the teeth and gums after damage occurs.
In the most recent National Study of Adult Oral Health, just over half (56%) of all adults aged 15 years and over reported visiting the dentist in the previous 12 months (Chrisopoulos S, Luzzi L, Ellershaw A 2019). Nearly twice as many adults aged 35–54 who usually visit the dentist for a dental problem (49%) had untreated coronal decay than those who usually visit for a check-up (25%)(Lo D, Luzzi L 2019). People may avoid or delay visiting a dental practitioner for a variety of reasons, including cost, fear or because of difficulties accessing services. Around 4 in 10 (39%) adults aged 15 years and over delayed or avoided dental care due to cost (Chrisopoulos S, Luzzi L, Ellershaw A 2019).
Brennan DS, Luzzi L, Ellershaw A and Peres M 2019. Oral health perceptions (pp125–144). In: ARCPOH. Australia’s Oral Health: National Study of Adult Oral Health 2017–18. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide, South Australia
Chrisopoulos S, Luzzi L, Ellershaw A 2019. Dental care (pp97–124). In: ARCPOH. Australia’s Oral Health: National Study of Adult Oral Health 2017–18. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide, South Australia
DHSV (Dental Health Services Victoria) 2011. Links between oral health and general health: the case for action
Do LG, Luzzi L, Ha DH, Roberts-Thomson KF, Chrisopoulos S et al 2016. Trends in child oral health in Australia (pp 288–305). In: Do LG & Spencer AJ (eds). Oral health of Australian children: the National Child Oral Health Study 2012–14. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press
Ha D H, Roberts-Thompson KF, Arrow P, Peres KG & Do LG 2016. Children’s oral health status in Australia, 2012-14. In: Do LG & Spencer AJ (eds). Oral health of Australian children: the National Child Oral Health Study 2012–14. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press, 86-152.
Lo D, Luzzi L 2019. Oral health status (pp 38–96). In: ARCPOH. Australia’s Oral Health: National Study of Adult Oral Health 2017–18. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide, South Australia
In 2021–22, around 1 in 2 (49%) Australians aged 15 years and over saw a dental professional in the last 12 months
In 2020–21, 5–9 year olds had the highest rate of potentially preventable hospitalisations due to dental conditions
In 2021–22, the median charge, benefit and gap for a preventative dental clean was $61, $40 and $19, respectively
The proportion of adults with untreated tooth decay increased between 2004–06 and 2017–18
Around three times as many children aged 10–14 years experienced toothache in 2017–18 than in 2013
9 in 10 Australians can access fluoridated drinking water