MORE than 5100 children under five in NSW were forced to endure tooth extractions last year and another 13,000 were given fillings as dentists warned the high numbers could be due to parents shunning tap water.
Official Health Department figures for its publicly-funded dental program also show 778 pre-school youngsters had teeth problems so severe they required root canal therapy in the 2006-07 financial year.
Crowns and bridgework, usually not needed until adulthood, were required in 63 cases for children.
Australian Dental Association NSW president Tony Burgess said there was growing evidence that dental health in preschool children was in decline, possibly due to them not getting enough exposure to fluoride in drinking water.
He believed some parents were deliberately avoiding giving their children tap water – possibly in favour of filtered water or worse, soft drinks – and missing out on the proven benefits of fluoride in offering healthier teeth.
“There is evidence of a slight increase in the decay rates being experienced in the under 5-6 age group,” he said.
“I’d say its because there’s been less exposure among them to tap water”.
He said he believed there were still lingering concerns about the quality of Sydney tap water, possibly due to the giardia contamination scare of 1998 when warnings were issued not to drink the water.
Documents show 55,144 dental services – including 12,943 fillings – were performed on children under the age of five in 2006-07, data released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Of the 5130 tooth extractions, the highest number in the age group were in the South West Sydney Area Health Service where 1590 teeth were removed.
The figures are for services provided in community health clinics and public hospitals and do not include services offered in private clinics.