A prevalence of tooth decay and gum disease in Tasmania are among disturbing new trends being heightened by COVID-19, experts have warned.
Data from Australia’s Oral Health Tracker shows Tasmanian adults are keeping their teeth longer, but one in three are living with untreated tooth decay.
A further 25 per cent are also estimated to have gum disease.
Australian Dental Association Tasmania branch president Dr Alex du Bois said people were avoiding the dentist over fears of being close to others, while those experiencing financial stress were less likely to spend money on their health.
“These conditions are largely preventable, yet they’ve increased in prevalence and we continue to get further away from our goal of improving Tasmania’s oral health,” Dr du Bois said.
“COVID-19 is only making this worse. We’re anticipating a spike in the number of tooth decay and other oral health issues to emerge once the pandemic is over.”
In other news:
According to the latest quarterly Health System Dashboard, there were 14,855 Tasmanian adults waiting for general dental care as of March 2020.
The average waiting time was just under two years for non emergency dental care, and three months for dentures across the state.
Dr du Bois said even though there was increased demand on public services, patients with urgent needs were being seen within good time frames.
“Adult emergency patients are seen on the day and patient triaged with urgent need are usually seen within 24 to 48 hours,” he said.
“The children’s service has been impacted by COVID, but they are now seeing patients in a more normal manner and working well through the backlog of postponed patients.
“The last few months have made them look at alternative ways of engaging with their patients, and has given the opportunity to explore telehealth as a way of engaging and working with families to improve their oral health.”
Strategies to improve Australia’s oral health outcomes are being highlighted during Dental Health Week, including a renewed focus on the impact of sugar.
Associate Professor of Oral Health at the University of Tasmania Dr Len Crocombe said individual behaviours and government policies needed to change.
“We’ve reached our set target for the number of adults with fewer than 21 teeth. This shows that adults are keeping their teeth for longer,” he said.
“But at the same time we’re seeing more disease. For tooth decay and gum disease we need to be targeting the causes – like poor oral hygiene and free sugar consumption, which includes added sugars, honey, syrups and fruit juice.
“For many people, free sugar consumption is still well above the World Health Organisation’s recommended six teaspoons [24 grams] a day limit and this is affecting quality of life by causing tooth decay.”
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