This report presents findings from the dental follow-up data collection that was established as part of the Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement (NPA) between the Australian and Northern Territory governments to monitor dental services in communities in prescribed areas of the Northern Territory. These findings can be used to support public accountability for the delivery of dental services provided through the NPA.

The report provides information on the following aspects of dental services delivered from August 2007 to June 2010, including the:

  • amount and types of dental services provided;
  • extent of follow-up care provided to children with dental referrals;
  • oral health status of children who received dental services.

Key findings

There are some data limitations that affect the findings of this report. Although the data collection covered the majority of dental services, it does not contain information on services provided by some of the service providers. The analyses presented also exclude information on children who did not consent to share their dental health information with Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). The DMFT (decayed, missing or filled teeth) data only covers children receiving a service in the period March–December 2009 due to several issues detailed later in the report. While the data are subject to these limitations, the report still shows that:

  • A total of 9,581 occasions of service were provided to 6,002 children by June 2010 through the Closing the Gap Program. While the program was slow to start in 2007–08 — when 868 occasions of service were provided — for the last two financial years 2008–10 more than 4,200 occasions of services were provided in each year.
  • During the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) Child Health Check Initiative (CHCI) in the areas covered by the Closing the Gap Program 3,224 children received a dental referral. According to the AIHW dental data collection, 1,946 of these children with a referral from their health checks were seen by June 2010. The average waiting time between referral and the receipt of service among this group of children was 14.3 months.
  • Of the 6,002 children who received a dental service, 4,345 children consented to sharing their treatment data with the AIHW. The analyses could be undertaken on data from 4,281 children which showed that 55% (2,368) of them were identified at initial consultation as requiring further dental care.
  • Of the 2,368 children requiring follow-up care, 66% (1,570) were seen by a dental health professional. The high mobility of Indigenous children in these areas presents a great challenge to provide follow-up services. For example, at the time of dental service, 39% of children were living in a community different to the one they were at when they received the health checks.
  • According to data provided to the AIHW, almost all children receiving a dental service received a diagnostic service. The most common services provided include preventative (70%) and restorative (48%) services, followed by fluoride varnish (16%) and dental surgery (16%).
  • Due to data capture problems, information on decayed, missing and filled teeth (DMFT/dmft) was available for 32% (1,939) of children who received a dental service. Of these children 83% (1,612) had some decayed, missing or filled teeth. The prevalence of decayed, missing or filled teeth among these children is much higher than for comparable Northern Territory or Australian children from the National Child Dental Health Survey.

    The high prevalence of oral health problems and a significant number of follow-up services required indicate that there is a considerable need for dental services among these children that is expected to continue into the future.