The oral health of the rural community in South West Victoria has been a concern. People presenting to community dental clinics are suffering from serious dental decay. Young adults aged 20 years have, on average, eight decayed, missing or filled teeth. By the time they have reached 45 years half of their teeth are decayed, missing or filled. In the region, children as young as six years old have required dental treatment under general anaesthetic due to gross amounts of decay. Sugar rich diets, not visiting the dentist for regular check-ups and poor dental hygiene habits are heightening the risk of gross dental decay.
How people view the dentist may be connected to their early experience of dental check-ups and treatment during childhood. It might be a positive memory or, if a needle or drill has been produced, may lead to life time of connecting pain, discomfort and fear of visiting the dentist.
Early learning centres provide the ideal opportunity to introduce children to oral health procedures in a welcoming friendly atmosphere. The Wide Smiles Oral Health program is a collaboration of Barwon Health Oral Health Services and Colac Area Health, to improve access to dental services.
Oral health therapists visit kindergartens, early learning centres and schools in the Colac-Otway Shire and screen children aged three to seven years for initial signs of decay. Those children whose parents have consented have fluoride directly applied to tooth surfaces with early signs of decay. At each visit, a communal place is chosen for dental examinations so children do not feel that they are being separated from the main group. A small table and two chairs are often used. Screening is quick: six minutes, and every child leaves with a show bag containing a toothbrush and toothpaste. Children who need further dental work are referred to the outreach dental van or community dental clinic.
Parents and teachers have responded positively to the program.
“It’s great to see the children so confidently wanting to see the dentists, no fear at all!”
“It has given the children an opportunity to see a dentist in a non-threatening environment.”
The ultimate goal is to change to how the dentist is viewed by the community and in particular by our children. No longer will the word ‘dentist’ instil a child with fear. The sight of the dental outreach van will be a welcomed as a necessary part of our community’s health services.
From 2013 to 2016 1,785 children in the Colac-Otway Shire received dental screening at their early childhood centre and in 92 per cent of cases tooth surfaces have remained stable or improved after fluoride application.
If children are not always coming in for regular dental check-ups, then let’s take the oral health therapists out to the children and pave the way for a change in how the dentist is viewed.
Wide Smiles was recognised as the Oral Health Project of the year in Dental Health Services Victoria Pubic Oral Health Awards for 2107.