Since the introduction of water fluoridation in Victoria in the 1960s (and in Melbourne in 1977), along with the widespread use of fluoridated toothpastes, the dental caries (tooth decay) experience of Victorian children has improved dramatically. Despite these advances, dental caries is one of the most prevalent diseases in Victorian children. Almost half of all children (43 per cent) have signs of dental caries (Do and Spencer, 2016).
Dental conditions are the highest cause of all potentially preventable hospitalisations in children 0 to 9 years, predominantly due to dental caries (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018).
Two key pieces of data illustrate the dental caries experience of Victorian children.
The first relates to the average number of decayed, missing or filled baby teeth (known as a dmft score) in five and six-year-old children. In 2012–14, Victorian five and six-year-olds had an average dmft of 1.3 (Do and Spencer 2016). This was only slightly lower than that reported in the late 1980s.
The second piece of data relates to the average number of decayed, missing or filled adult teeth (known as a DMFT score) in 12-year-old children. In 2012–14, Victorian 12-year-olds had an average DMFT of 0.8 (Do and Spencer 2016). This represents a significant reduction from the late 1980s, when the corresponding figure was approximately 1.8.
The data for five and six-year-old children indicates that to prevent dental caries, the department needs to:
- focus on enhancing environments that promote oral health
- increase the oral health literacy of families
- provide resources and services for pre-school children.
Causes of dental caries
Sugar in foods and drinks is the key dietary cause of dental caries. Some children are high consumers of sugary foods and drinks.
The Victorian Child Oral Health Survey identified that four in 10 Victorian children consume one or more sugary drinks on a usual day and almost half of Victorian children are eating four or more sugary foods/snacks on a usual day (Do and Spencer 2016; Dental Health Services Victoria / Department of Health and Human Services 2016).
The School Dental Program and prevention initiatives such as the Smiles 4 Miles, Healthy Families Healthy Smiles and Fluoride Varnish programs are helping to improve the oral health of children so that they will have a good foundation for lifelong oral health.
Most Victorians have access to the dental health benefits of water fluoridation. The department's extension of water fluoridation in 2017-18 to the communities of Cobram, Strathmerton and Yarroweyah further extended the benefits of this important public health initiative to more rural and regional Victorians.
Find out more
Dental Health Services Victoria / Department of Health and Human Services 2016, Victorian preschool oral health survey, State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
Department of Health and Human Services 2018, Ambulatory care sensitive conditions – dental conditions 2017. State Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
Do L and Spencer A 2016, National child oral health study 2012–14, University of Adelaide Press, Adelaide.
Reviewed 17 April 2023