Australian adults are about to get a major dental check-up in the first national oral health study in more than a decade.
Fifteen-thousand Australians will be randomly selected for a free dental examination as part of the $5.8 million study to be conducted over 2017-18.
Researchers will consider the effect of sugar, tobacco and fluoride and the findings will inform government policy.
Professor Marco Peres, director of the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health at Adelaide University (ARCPOH), said the study would look at oral health-related behaviours—the pattern of dental attendance, barriers to access, frequency and reasons for dental visits, as well as satisfaction with health professionals.
“We are also looking at episodes of dental pain in the last 12 months, sugar consumption and other risk factors for death or disease, such as tobacco and use of fluorides,” Professor Peres said.
Researchers will also track the 5,500 participants from the previous national study conducted by ARCPOH in 2004-2006.
Results will be correlated with the broader, national picture on things such as changes in policy, access to fluoride, and sugar and tobacco consumption.
Professor Peres said researchers were expecting to find a reduction in harm related to smoking, which would impact on periodontal disease.
Increased fluoride coverage is also expected to have resulted in a reduction in tooth decay.
Would Australians support a sugar tax?
With regard to sugar consumption, Professor Peres said this would be the first time that a study would look at some policies currently under discussion, like the possibility of having a tax on sugar.
“It will be a very important part of the study to compare internationally how Australians think about these important policies,” he said.
“We will ask participants about how willing they are in terms of implementation policies like [a sugar tax], as happens in many different countries like Canada and the US and recently in Mexico, and currently in discussion in the UK as well.”
Professor Peres said awareness had improved in Australia regarding the importance of oral health, on all-over body health and also the impact on wider society.
“The impact for society and individuals is huge,” he said.
“In the last decade there’s been an increasing body of evidence showing that the relationship between oral health and general health is important, particularly periodontal disease and some chronic disease.
“Dental diseases are among the top 10 most prevalent diseases in the world.
“In terms of cost, dental diseases are among the top four groups of disease to treat, so it’s an enormous impact.”