Oral health is an important part of overall health and quality of life. Poor oral health can affect adults and children alike, causing pain, embarrassment, even social marginalisation. For children, the effects can be long term, and carry through to adulthood.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely than non-Indigenous children to experience tooth decay. Several factors contribute to the poorer oral health of Indigenous children, including social disadvantage and lack of access to appropriate diet and dental services.
Since 2007, the Australian Government has helped fund oral health services for Indigenous children aged under 16 in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment Oral Health Program (NTRAI OHP) complements the Northern Territory Government Child Oral Health Program by providing preventive (application of full-mouth fluoride varnish and fissure sealants) and clinical (tooth extractions, diagnostics, restorations and examinations) services.
This report mainly presents data from the NTRAI OHP from July 2012 to December 2019, but includes some longer term analyses for 2009 to 2019.
How many Indigenous children received services in the NTRAI OHP?
In 2019, more than 13,000 services were delivered to Indigenous children in the Northern Territory under the NTRAI OHP. Of those children:
- 5,614 received 6,807 full-mouth fluoride varnish services, a rise of 378 services from 2018
- 1,612 received fissure sealant applications to 6,266 teeth, a decrease of 661 teeth from 2018
- 3,552 received clinical services during 4,780 visits—such as dental assessments, fillings, extractions, or preventive services—a rise of 894 visits from 2018.
How many Indigenous children experienced tooth decay in the NTRAI OHP?
Tooth decay varied by age, and in 2019, children aged 9 had the highest percentage of tooth decay experience (85%). In comparison, 4 in 10 (38%) children aged 1–3 experienced tooth decay in 2019.
How many decayed, missing or filled teeth did Indigenous children have?
A widely used indicator to measure oral health status is a count of the number of decayed, missing or filled teeth.
On average, in 2019, children in the NTRAI OHP aged 6 had the highest average number of decayed, missing or filled baby teeth (dmft), at 5.2 teeth, while children aged 15 had the highest average number of decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth (DMFT), at 4.0 teeth.
Is the program meeting its benchmarks?
The NTRAI OHP has performance indicators and benchmarks to monitor its outcomes. In 2019, the service delivery targets for clinical service visits and fissure sealant applications were met or exceeded. The target for fluoride varnish applications was not met (Table S1).
|Service delivery targets
|At least 3,800 clinical service visits per year
||4,780 clinical service visits
At least 6,908 fluoride varnish applications in 2019
|6,807 fluoride varnish applications provided
|Fissure sealant applications to at least 3,500 teeth in 2019
||Fissure sealant applications to 6,266 teeth
Health outcome targets
|At least 50% of total service items are preventive services
||67% of total service items were preventive in 2019