Smaller regional towns missing out on oral care larger centres receive
Dental health experts are using Dental Health Week to highlight some of the inequalities in oral health being felt in regional areas.
One of the key issues raised is the number of small towns that do not have fluoridated water supplies.
La Trobe University senior research fellow Virginia Dickson-Swift has helped communities, including Cohuna in northern Victoria, win state government funding for the fluoridation of its water.
Dr Dickson-Swift said the National Oral Health Plan stated all towns with more than 1000 people should have water fluoridation, but funding was not automatically made available for towns to make the change, meaning people had to lobby and advocate for themselves.
According to the Victorian Department of Health, Broadford, Yea, Longwood, Nagambie, Euroa, Violet Town, Rushworth, Murchison, Tatura, Stanhope, Rochester, Numurkah, Nathalia, Katamatite and Strathmerton did not have fluoridated water supplies, among many more communities across the Goulburn Valley.
Dr Dickson-Swift said the different treatment for smaller centres had an impact on oral health for people in regional areas.
“We’re talking about double the state average of decayed and missing teeth and, in some places, double the state preventable hospital admissions for dental causes,” she said.
“When we look at the towns without fluoridation, it’s a lot worse than for towns with fluoridation.”
The Health Department stated that tooth decay was the most prevalent oral health problem, with half of all children and adolescents and more than 90 per cent of adults affected.
“Fluoridation helps protect people of all ages from tooth decay, from the young to the old,” the department’s website stated.
“Water fluoridation is a fair way of delivering the benefits of fluoride to the community, regardless of individual age, education, income or motivation.”
Dr Dickson-Swift said the benefits fluoride brought to communities were especially important for children, including if they still had their “baby” teeth.
“The impact for children is much more than adults because it’s lifelong,” she said.
“The thing is, they’re (baby teeth) primary teeth. If you have a mouthful of decayed primary teeth, they’re going to affect your adult teeth as they come through.
“I believe we need to think more about prevention and fluoride is one of those things.”
Fluoridation of water supplies attracts intense opposition from some individuals and groups, but Dr Dickson-Swift said the evidence that it brought benefits was clear.
“I think people have a right to be concerned about what’s in their water, but I think we have to be guided by the science,” she said.
“I don’t think you could argue with the science if you understood the science.
“When communities are presented with evidence and evidence they can trust, they make informed decisions.”
Dental Health Week runs from Monday, August 1, until Sunday, August 7.
To check if your town’s supply is fluoridated go to https://www.health.vic.gov.au/water/is-my-water-fluoridated