Which Aussie kids are at higher risk of tooth decay?

The incidence of tooth decay in children – up to 6 years of age – has been steadily increasing since 2000, according to the 2015 report on oral health and dental care in Australia (released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra). The report presented key facts and figures, drawn from annual data collected in Australia since 1977.

The most recent statistical data, presented in the report, indicate that 55% of 6 year olds had had tooth decay in their baby teeth. While 48% of 12 year olds had had it in their permanent teeth.

So what are the high risk factors that jeopardise our kids’ oral health? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there are a number of risk and protective factors (as well as clinical findings) that need to be assessed, in order to determine if a child is at low or high risk for tooth decay or caries.

The caries risk, in order of priority, includes the following risk factors:

  • The mother or main caregiver has had ongoing decay in the last year.
  • The mother or primary caregiver does not have a dentist.
  • The child continually uses a bottle or sippy cup with drinks (e.g. soft drinks or juice) other than water.
  • Frequent snacking on refined carbohydrates and high-sugar foods.
  • Special health care needs.

The protective factors that can lower the caries risk of a child:

  • An existing dental home (this means the child has the same dentist to care for and manage their oral health over a long term period).
  • Fluoridated water intake or fluoride supplements.
  • Fluoride varnish treatment within the last 6 months.
  • Brushing teeth twice daily.

Dentists can also identify high risk factors from the following clinical findings, (in order of priority):

  • White spots or visible decalcifications in the previous 12 months.
  • Visible tooth decay.
  • Presence of tooth restorations (e.g. fillings).
  • Visible accumulation of plaque.
  • Gingivitis – symptoms include gum bleeding, swelling and/or redness.
  • Health and presence of all teeth.

If your child (or one you know) is at high risk, then referral to a dentist, with follow-up dental care, is essential. And by ensuring that the high-risk factors are eliminated and the protective factors are practiced at home, you can give your child the best start to life-long oral health.