Pediatric tooth decay is reaching epidemic proportions in the Australian state of Victoria. According to Dental Health Services Victoria (DHSV), half of the 6-year-old children presenting to public dental clinics there have experienced tooth decay. Also, 50% of all children in the state have experienced some tooth decay by the age of 12 years, and the highest rates of disease occur among disadvantaged populations.
Meanwhile, approximately 4,500 Victorian children up to the age of 14 years are hospitalized each year due to dental conditions. Dental disease accounts for more than 63,000 hospital presentations each year in Australia, making it the third highest cause of preventable hospital admissions behind kidney infection and gastroenteritis.
“Every year in Victoria, more than 1,300 children undergo a general anesthetic at the Dental Hospital for dental treatment. Most of this dental disease is preventable,” said Sophie Beaumont, BDS, MPH, a DHSV dentist based at the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne. “Most of these hospitalizations are for children having general anesthetics for the management of dental decay, which are totally preventable.”
About half of that number are children of preschool age, the DHSV reports. Last financial year, the dental hospital had 53 preschool-aged children who saw at least half of their baby teeth extracted, with some children requiring all of their teeth to be extracted. However, the DHSV says that good oral hygiene, including effective tooth-brushing with fluoride toothpaste, is only part of the solution as a healthy diet is the most important factor in oral health.
“Many foods and drinks are very high in added sugars. Often these are hidden sugars in goods and drinks that are marketed as ‘healthy’ or important to achieve good outcomes, such as with sports drinks,” said Beaumont. “Everyone knows those little Easter eggs are loaded with sugar, but it’s the not so obvious items that can be easily missed. The Easter period is a good reminder to get to the dentist and avoid long-term pain.”