Indigenous oral health in NT improving

Indigenous-kidServices delivered under the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (SFNT) have helped improve oral health among Indigenous children living in the Northern Territory, according to a report released this month by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The SFNT Oral Health Program supports delivery of oral health services to Indigenous children under the age of 16 living in the Northern Territory—a population of almost 24,000 children. It includes a preventive program providing full-mouth fluoride varnish and fissure sealants, as well as clinical services (dental check-ups, fillings, extractions and other treatments).

The report, Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory: Oral Health Program July 2012 to December 2013, shows that between July 2012 and December 2013 around 3,700 Indigenous children received full-mouth fluoride varnish applications, 2,100 received fissure sealants, and 4,700 received clinical services.

The SFNT Oral Health Program replaced and expanded upon services provided through the Child Health Check Initiative/Closing the Gap program, which ran from August 2007 to June 2012. Among children who received services under both programs, the proportion who were treated for at least one oral health problem dropped from 48 per cent to 45 per cent.

“The decline in the proportion of children who were treated for one or more oral health problems shows a gradual but promising trend in better oral health outcomes for Indigenous children who receive these services,” said AIHW spokesperson Tracy Dixon.

The latest information shows fewer children requiring to be treated for mouth infections or mouth sores, as well as other problems such as gum disease, abnormal tooth growth and dental abscess.

The proportion of children receiving services who had ever had tooth decay decreased for most age groups between 2009 and 2013. In particular, for 1-3 year olds, the proportion decreased from 73 per cent to 56 per cent, and for 12 year olds from 81 per cent to 67 per cent.

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