Something started going wrong with Waikato preschoolers’ teeth in the late 1990s and health authorities aren’t sure why.
Statistics presented to a recent Hamilton seminar showed that from about 1998, young Waikato children’s teeth started deteriorating — at odds with the rest of the country where there has been little change.
A measure of the number of cavity-free teeth in five-year-olds showed Waikato falling behind in areas with both fluoridated and unfluoridated water supplies.
The opposite trend occurred for older children. The number of filled or missing teeth in 12-year-olds since 2000 put Waikato well above the national average in quality, especially in fluoridated areas. In unfluoridated parts of the Waikato, where 12-year-olds lagged behind the national average, teeth improved to rise slightly above the national average by 2003.
About half of the region’s children drink fluoridated water.
Epidemiologist Liz Craig, who presented the report on Waikato child safety, said she couldn’t account for the trend.
Waikato medical officer of health Felicity Dumble had no specific reason why the statistics showed young Waikato children’s teeth were deteriorating at a faster rate.
The district health board encourages parents to enrol preschoolers in school-based dental services.
Hillcrest dentist Steven Pawley said parents could enrol children in school-based dental care from the age of 2 1/2 but a large sector of the community didn’t. This group — which he indicated were a lower socio-economic group — tended to drag down the statistics.
Dr Dumble said the district health board’s oral health strategy also encouraged twice-a-day brushing with fluoride toothpaste and healthy choices for eating and drinking.
“When you have highly sugared drinks so cheap, it makes it hard for families to make these choices.”
Dr Dumble said some fruit juices appeared to be healthy but in fact contained a lot of sugar.
She said the statistics were partly why the health board fought so hard in a recent city council referendum for fluoridation to be retained in Hamilton drinking water.