The sorry state of children’s oral health

Children’s oral health is in the media spotlight again after an Ipswich woman was jailed last week for 12 months after pleading guilty to child cruelty. Her nine-year-old daughter had 12 teeth extracted because she had given the girl only cordial to drink and had failed to take her to a dentist for more than three years. Ipswich District Court was told the girl had had a gum abscess that was draining pus and found eating painful.

Following these reports, dentists and academics around the country called for parents to take their children for oral check-ups well before they begin school to reduce the number of toddlers being placed under general anaesthetic to extract rotting teeth or fit crowns.

Perth paediatric dentist Peter Gregory-one of the city’s six paediatric dentists-told a newspaper dental decay among the pre-school group was common, with the city’s paediatric dentists each operating on children under anaesthetic three times a week.

“On little pre-schoolers we do little crowns and fillings, extract teeth and do all that sort of stuff,” Dr Gregory said. “I probably do about six children a week and these are extensive cases where children have eight to 10 cavities.”

In Brisbane, Royal Children’s Hospital oral health service director Steve Atkin said up to 10 children under the age of five were put under general anaesthetic for extensive dental work at the hospital each week.

“In my research I found only 38 per cent of children have ever seen a dental professional by age four,” said University of Western Australia’s School of Dentistry Professor Linda Slack-Smith. “Our research has also indicated that 60 per cent of children first see a dental professional at the School Dental Service.”

Her 2003 study into the number of pre-school children across the country who were taken for dental check-ups before they turned five put Western Australia at the bottom.

The state had the lowest proportion of three- and four-year-olds who had seen a dentist, at just 29 per cent. South Australia came out on top at 48 per cent.

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