Around 40% of five-year-old children who had dental check-ups in 2017 had tooth decay, according to data compiled by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health.
However, in poorer areas such as Tairāwhiti and Northland, children are faring worse – with about half having cavities. In areas like Northland, around 56% of children showed some signs of dental decay.
Dental Service Manager Arish Naresh said that although all children are enrolled with the Oral Health Service of the District Health Board, many families fail to actually take their children to the dentist, owing to a lack of time and long working days that can sometimes span 13 hours.
The government has already taken steps to improve the situation by offering evening and afternoon dental sessions, which, Mr Naresh said, has led to significantly lower rates of missed appointments.
Dr Naresh and his team hope to see major improvements in the next few years, though they note that thus far, there has been no improvement in the percentage of children with decay.
On the upside, the severity of decay has diminished, indicating that parents are taking their children to the dentist once symptoms of decay are noticed.
Regular dental visits are key because some cavities do not show symptoms until it is too late.
Moreover, sometimes, small cavities may be immensely bothersome, while larger ones may go unnoticed. The latter is especially true if decay begins beneath the gumline.
Since large cavities can sometimes results in tooth loss, it is vital for parents to comprehend that prevention of decay is key.
These days, dental implants for missing teeth can restore full functionality and improve aesthetics. However, dental implants are often not recommended until adulthood, when the jaw is fully developed.
Why are the Poor at an Increased Rate of Dental Decay?
In the report Too Soon for the Tooth Fairy: The Implications of Child Poverty for Oral Health, P Sural et al note that dental decay is a socio-economic disease.
The problem goes beyond not having enough time to go to the dentist. Orthodontic problems may require expensive orthodontic work and may have a significant effect on their confidence.
Researchers say that greater education is required, so that families are aware of the importance of nutrition and preventive care.
They said that real change could only be achieved through an improvement in family incomes of the impoverished.
Other measures recommended include a wider provision of fluoride in water, reducing the intake of sugary foods, and applying a tax on sugary drinks.
High costs deter
Research has shown that tooth decay is a disease that affects people from lower socio-economic rungs far more severely than the affluent.
Failure to seek proper dental care is often the result of a lack of time and a fear of the cost of treatments. Because dental decay can result in a lifetime of pain, loss of functionality, and even impaired self-confidence, it is vital that efforts be made to boost family incomes and to educate parents about the links between nutrition, tooth care, and oral health.
Lucy Wyndham is Content Editor for a Survey and Review Site based in New Zealand.
Photo Courtesy: Health Central New Zealand