Changes in caries experience among Australian public dental patients between 1995/96 and 2001/02

Health Card holders are a financially disadvantaged group and are the target population eligible for public-funded dental care. The aims of this study were to describe the oral health status of public-funded dental patients by age, sex, type of care and geographic location, and to compare trends over time.

METHODS: Patients were sampled randomly by State/Territory dental services in 1995/ 96 and 2001/02. Dentists recorded oral health status at the initial visit of a course of care using written instructions. The samples were weighted in proportion to the numbers of public-funded dental patients for each State/Territory.

RESULTS: Multiple linear regression analysis indicated that caries experience measured by the DMFT index increased across older age groups (p<0.05). For male compared with female patients mean numbers of decayed teeth were higher (beta=0.74), and filled teeth lower (beta=-1.16). For emergency compared with general care, mean numbers of decayed and missing teeth were higher (beta=0.52 and beta=0.76), and filled teeth lower (beta=-1.08). For major city compared with regional/remote patients, mean numbers of decayed (beta=-0.35) and missing teeth were lower (beta=-0.34). Between 1995/96 and 2001/02 numbers of decayed teeth were higher (beta=0.81) while numbers of filled teeth were lower (beta=-0.55).

CONCLUSIONS: There was variation in oral health among public dental patients by sex, type of care and location, and there was a trend towards lower numbers of filled teeth but higher numbers of decayed teeth and higher overall caries experience over time.

IMPLICATIONS: Despite population trends towards improved oral health, levels of untreated decayed teeth have increased among public dental patients.

Brennan DS, Spencer AJ.

Aust N Z J Public Health. 2004 Dec;28(6):542-8.

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