Recent research has revealed that children's oral health is improving. The Australian Dental Association describe this news as encouraging and attribute this trend to the promotion of proper brushing and regular check-ups.

A report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) examined the use of fluoride products in children aged between five and 15, with nearly 17,500 people examined from across Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

Fewer than five per cent of those in the study group did not brush their teeth every day, with almost all (99 per cent) using fluoride toothpaste. Two-thirds were found to be brushing the recommended amount of twice a day.

This is a definite improvement, but the ADA has warned that more can still be done to ensure further improvements and highlights the importance of maintaining these activities as well as regular dental visits.

Early adoption of good oral health behaviour

The importance of promoting good oral hygiene practices in children at as young an age as possible is paramount. Routines are very important for children in many areas, and oral hygiene is no different.

Oral healthcare should not be a start-and-stop process once a young patient visits the dentist, but needs to be consistent during the day - making education a powerful weapon. Seeing the dentist regularly at recommended appointments is important, but just as important is the work done at home that is guided by the parents.

"The AIHW's report provides very encouraging data on how children are taking care of their oral health," says Dr Shane Fryer, ADA president. "Children adopting the right behaviours early in their life ultimately means they should have fewer dental problems later in life."

Socio-economic trends in child oral health

Although the overall report was positive, there were several areas of concern, according to the ADA, particularly the variation in oral health behaviours across different socio-economic groups.

It found that children from higher-income families exhibited better oral health practices than those from lower-income ones, including more regular brushing, more appropriately sized toothbrushes and being less inclined to use too much toothpaste.

There were also differences when parental education and residential remoteness were taken into account, with use of fluoride products such as toothpastes, tablets, drops and mouthrinses contrasting slightly between urban and rural dwellers.

Dr Fryer suggested that the Australian government establish a dental scheme that provided targeted assistance for disadvantaged Australians to enable them to access the dental services they need."

However in the meantime, it is important that everyone considers their current oral health regimen and consults their dentist regarding the best practices. I.e your dentist is not just there to tell you what to do; don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Fluoride product use

There were a number of slight, yet important, differences between socio-economic demographics on the use of fluoride products, the AIHW noted in its summary of the report.

Of the ten per cent of children to use fluoride tablets or drops, higher-income families were more prevalent and were more likely to use them for longer periods of time than lower-income families. Despite this, children from lower-income families who did use tablets or drops did so more frequently than privileged children.

Fluoride tablets and drops were also more common in rural areas, largely due to the fact many urban settlements already have fluoridated tap water.

Overall use of fluoride mouthrinse was considered low, although it was witnessed increasingly in children as they got older. Where mouthwash was part of an individual's oral health practices, less than one-quarter used it every day.

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