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April 2007 Issue
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Fluoride generation has healthier smile

 Oral Health

Fluoride in water and toothpaste provides significant dental benefits into adulthood, the latest national survey of oral health shows, with a marked drop in dental decay levels over the past 17 years.

A 300-page report, prepared by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's Dental Statistics and Research Unit at the University of Adelaide, reveals that Australians born after 1970 - the so-called "fluoride generation" - have, on average, half the level of decay of their parents' generation.

"These results provide the first evidence within the Australian population that drinking fluoridated water during childhood translates into significantly better dental health in adulthood," said Professor Gary Slade, one of the report's authors.

Australia's dental generations: The National Survey of Adult Oral Health 2004-06 was launched recently by the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon. Tony Abbott, at the 32nd Australian Dental Congress in Sydney.

The survey of more than 14,500 Australians aged 15-98 years shows that only 6% of people had lost all their natural teeth, compared to 14% in the first national oral health survey conducted in 1987-88.

Despite improvements in oral health, most Australians were susceptible to dental disease, the authors said.

"A total of 25% of Australians have cavities, one in five has gum disease and another 15% have experienced toothaches in the last 12 months," Professor Slade said.

Aboriginal people and other disadvantaged groups, including people eligible for public dental care, were also more likely to have dental health problems.

The survey also reveals that only 44% of Australians visit the same dentist for an annual check-up, with a direct correlation between dental attendance and levels of oral disease.

"Australians with private dental insurance are more likely to visit the dentist at least once a year, and thus have better dental health," Professor Slade said.

The other contributing authors to the report were Professor John Spencer and Dr Kaye Roberts-Thomson, all from the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health at the University of Adelaide.

Story by Candy Gibson

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