QUEENSLAND toddlers have more rotting teeth than children living interstate and their dental health is getting worse every year.
A major new study of children’s dental records has found the average five-year-old Queenslander has more than two decayed, missing or filled teeth – almost twice the national average.
Of the 53,000 Queensland children between five and 12 surveyed for the report, only 40 per cent had perfect teeth – the lowest proportion in the nation.
About half of the 9500 five and six-year-old Queenslanders surveyed for the report already had experienced rotting teeth, compared with just two in five across Australia.
Queensland kids across the board required more treatment for rotten baby and permanent teeth than children in any other state.
By 12, Queensland children had been treated for on average of at least one rotten permanent tooth.
But the most concerning finding of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study was an increase in the “decay rate” of toddlers’ baby teeth in the late 1990s after more than two decades of improvements in dental health.
Five-year-olds experienced a 22 per cent increase in decayed baby teeth between 1996 and 1999, while six-year-olds had an 8 per cent increase over the same period.
The report also showed 10 per cent of those six-year-olds had more than five times the national average of missing, decayed or filled teeth.
The survey of 372,000 children also found a corresponding drop in the percentage of children with no tooth decay.
Report co-author Jason Armfield said the study did not examine the reasons behind the marked decline in the dental health of young Australians. But he speculated that reduced fluoride intake and dietary changes – such as higher sugar and non-fluoridated bottled water consumption – might be contributing.
“We have evidence that children who consume higher amounts of water from rainwater tanks and bottled water have higher caries experience than children drinking water from fluoridated public mains water,” he said.
The report found Australia had the second-lowest average number of decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth in 12-year-olds when compared with 38 other countries.
The Australian Dental Association believes fluoride and effective health education have contributed to the nation’s generally good dental health.
With the exception of Queensland, water supplies in all major Australian cities and most regional towns have been fluoridated for years.
More than 80 per cent of reticulated water supply in other states is fluoridated. In 1997, a taskforce headed by Lord Mayor Jim Soorley rejected adding fluoride to Brisbane’s water supply.
The taskforce cited health and environmental concerns for its decision, saying there was considerable concern that fluoridation could increase the total intake of fluoride in excess of a safe level for babies and young children.
Only about 5 per cent of the Queenslanders have access to artificially fluoridated water.
Councils that do fluoridate their water include Townsville/Thuringowa, Gatton, Biloela, Moranbah, Mareeba and Dalby.