Gaping hole in Australian dental health is preventable

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According to University of Queensland-led research, children with limited exposure to fluoridated water and a high sugar intake are 70 per cent more likely to develop cavities in their permanent teeth.

Professor Loc Do from UQ’s School of Dentistry said a study of 24,664 Australian children raised particular concerns for young people in Queensland.

“The coverage of water fluoridation in Queensland is the lowest in the country, while our intake of free sugars is among the highest,” said Professor Do.

“We hope these results will convince policymakers in jurisdictions without fluoridated water to implement this effective and cost-saving community measure.

“We also hope to see the promotion of healthy behaviours like reducing the intake of sugars, which would both improve dental health and help prevent other conditions such as obesity.”

More than half of the 5 to 14-year-olds in the study were considered to have either low exposure to fluoridation (less than 25 per cent of their life) or medium exposure (between 25–75 per cent of their life).

Approximately 60 per cent of the children analysed consumed four or more daily servings of food or drinks high in free sugars.

The research found those who consumed more than four daily servings of high-sugar food or drinks but with high exposure to fluoridation were 40 per cent less likely to develop cavities in their baby teeth than those with low or medium fluoridation.

"Likewise, those with a diet rich in sugars, but with high exposure to fluoridation were 50 per cent less likely to develop cavities in adult teeth than those with lower levels of fluoridation," it said.

UQ lead-author Dr Diep Ha said it was well known that dental cavities are largely preventable, water fluoridation was effective, and high free-sugar intake was detrimental to child dental health.

“These facts are not surprising or new, but the results from almost 25,000 young people in this study show there is still a need to address these issues to improve child dental health in Australia,” said Dr Ha.

“To achieve maximum prevention of dental decay, lack of exposure to fluoridated water and high intake of sugars should be targeted.”