New data from Dental Health Services Victoria (DHSV) shows the dental decay gap is closing between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children.
In 2008-09, 59 per cent of those children presenting to Victorian public dental clinics with untreated dental decay were Aboriginal children. Those figures were significantly lower for non-Aboriginal children at 43.3 per cent.
In 2016-17, those figures dropped from 59 per cent to 35.7 per cent for Aboriginal children. Figures were also down from 43.3 per cent to 24.1 per cent for non-Aboriginal children. Over this nine-year period, the overall oral health gap dropped from 15.7 per cent between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children to a mere 11.6 per cent.
DHSV CEO Dr Deborah Cole said that while there is still a dental health gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children, significant progress has been made.
“We have worked hard to close the gap and our commitment to improving oral health is clear in the positive outcomes shown by these numbers,” Dr Cole said.
“Although Aboriginal children still have higher levels of oral disease, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children is closing. Part of that reason is improving access to dental care.”
A combination of health promotion initiatives and the important outreach work of DHSV’s Aboriginal Liaison and Community Development officers have contributed to the significant increase in the number of Aboriginal patients accessing treatment in public dental clinics— including children.
In 2008-09, a total of 2,338 Aboriginal people accessed public dental services across Victoria and in 2016-17, that number skyrocketed to 10,938 Aboriginal people accessing public dental treatment—a five-fold increase.
Health promotion initiatives such as the Bigger Better Smiles education program is partnering with Aboriginal Health Services and Support to build capacity for oral health promotion within these services, contributing to the declining levels of decay in the Aboriginal community.