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Briefing paper

Is the current model of public dental care promoting the oral health of young children in Australia?

12 Apr 2017

The disease burden of dental caries among children is substantial. Children, particularly those under 10 years of age, experience a high rate of potentially preventable hospitalisations compared with other age groups. This is despite strong evidence that early risk assessment, timely and regular dental care can be less costly and more effective than usual models of care. Surveillance data suggests that young children under 5 years do not receive preventive dental care early enough, nor do they receive care frequently enough. The dental utilisation rate for young children under 5 years is low in comparison to all other age groups under 17 years. Furthermore, the proportion of untreated dental caries is similar across all age cohorts, while the total dental caries experience increases with age. There is evidence that other approaches to addressing dental care among children are likely to yield positive health and economic outcomes. Proposed approaches include shifting the funding model to focus on prevention, and investing in skills development to increase the capability of non-dental health professionals to deliver more early oral health promotion services.

Key messages:

  • Children under 10 experience a high burden of potentially preventable hospitalisations due to poor oral health.
  • The proportion of young children under 5 utilising dental services is significantly lower than other age groups under 17 years.
  • Surveillance data shows a high rate of untreated dental caries across all age groups in childhood. Children receive preventive dental services too late.
  • There are opportunities to improve child oral health by focusing on preventive public models of care. 
  • Enhanced models of care should be expanded to include non-dental practitioners and outreach dental programs.
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