Indigenous Australians suffer from higher rates of oral disease and have more untreated dental problems and tooth extractions than the general population. Indigenous Australians also have lower rates of accessing oral health services and are more likely to visit for a problem rather than a check-up. Multiple issues effect health service and prevention programs including: characteristics of health services such as distances to health services; existence of social and cultural barriers; available wealth and social support; and, characteristics of the individual and community including the importance given to the disease. This paper seeks to explore the perceived importance of oral health within a rural Indigenous community in Australia and the factors influencing this perception.
The study used a phenomenology research design incorporating focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. It was undertaken in partnership with communities’ Health Action Group who guided the focus, implementation and reporting of the research. A convenience sample was recruited from established community groups. Thematic analysis on the transcripts was completed.
Twenty-seven community members participated in three focus groups and twelve in-depth interviews. The study found that the community gives high priority to oral health. Factors influencing the importance include: the perceived severity of symptoms of oral disease such as pain experienced due to tooth ache; lack of enabling resources such as access to finance and transport; the social impact of oral disease on individuals including impact on their personal appearance and self-esteem; and health beliefs including oral health awareness.
This paper highlights the high importance this rural Indigenous community gives to oral health. Its findings suggest that under-utilisation of oral health services is influenced by both major barriers faced in accessing oral health services; and the number and severity of competing health and social concerns within the community. The study results confirm the importance of establishing affordable, culturally appropriate, community-based oral health care services to improve the oral health of rural Indigenous communities.