Monday, May 07, 2018

Poverty and Bad Teeth in New Zealand

"You can't brush away a high sugar diet that feeds the disease process, so it's really important that we get a clear message across that it's diet first and foremost, what we're eating and drinking," 

Child poverty and its detrimental impact on dental health care casts a long shadow and affects oral health into adulthood, University of Otago Associate Professor in the Faculty of Dentistry, Jonathan Broadbent says.

His comments are based on analysis of dental data from the University of Otago’s internationally recognised Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, tracking the lives of more than 1000 babies born in Dunedin between April 1972 and March 1973. Now that the study members are adults, it is possible to investigate how their childhood influenced their adult dental health, and the Dunedin study is revealing. Up to 18 years of age, more dental decay occurred among children from socio-economically disadvantaged families, but those who needed dental care mostly got it due to New Zealand’s universal dental health care for children and adolescents, Associate Professor Broadbent explains. However, this changed once access to state-funded dental care ended at age 18. By the time they were 26, the average number of teeth with untreated decay among young people from socio-economically disadvantaged families was five times greater than it had been at age 18.

“Publicly-funded dental care minimises inequality up to age 18, but then the bottom drops out,” Associate Professor Broadbent says. 

By age 38, the average number of teeth lost was six times greater among those who had been born into disadvantaged families than for those born into well-off families. If you have a high rate of decay as a child and are born into a family with low-income parents, this will affect your risk of having poor dental health right through your life, not just during childhood.

A Child Poverty Action Group’s report Too soon for the tooth fairy, released today, which shines the spotlight on the implications of child poverty for oral health. The report backs up Associate Professor Broadbent’s concerns over inequality in dental health care. 

Dental public health specialist Rob Beaglehole, said "Tooth decay is a socio-economic disease."

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