Small regional towns lack oral care, large centers receive


Fluorinated: Unlike many smaller centers in the region, Cohuna’s water supply is now fluoridated.

Dental health experts are using Dental Health Week to highlight some of the oral health inequities felt across regions.

One of the main issues raised is the number of small towns that do not have fluoridated water supplies.

Virginia Dickson-Swift, a senior researcher at La Trobe University, has helped communities, including Cohuna in northern Victoria, secure state government funding for fluoridation of their water.

Dr Dickson-Swift said the National Oral Health Plan stated that all towns with more than 1,000 people should have fluoridated water, but funding was not automatically made available to towns for effect change, which meant people had to lobby and advocate for themselves.

According to Victoria’s Department of Health, Broadford, Yea, Longwood, Nagambie, Euroa, Violet Town, Rushworth, Murchison, Tatura, Stanhope, Rochester, Numurkah, Nathalia, Katamatite and Strathmerton had no fluoridated water supply, among many other communities across the Goulburn Valley.

Dr Dickson-Swift said the different treatment for smaller centers has an impact on the oral health of people in the areas.

“We’re talking about double the state average for decayed and missing teeth and, in some places, double the state’s preventable hospital admissions for dental causes,” she said.

“When you look at cities without fluoridation, it’s much worse than for cities with fluoridation.”

The Ministry of Health said tooth decay was the most common oral health problem, with half of all children and adolescents and more than 90% of adults affected.

“Fluoridation helps protect people of all ages against tooth decay, from the youngest to the oldest,” the department’s website said.

“Water fluoridation is an equitable way to deliver the benefits of fluoride to the community, regardless of an individual’s age, education, income, or motivation.”

Dr Dickson-Swift said the benefits of fluoride to communities were particularly important for children, including if they still had their baby teeth.

“The impact for children is far greater than for adults because it’s lifelong,” she said.

“The thing is, these are (baby teeth) primary teeth. If you have a bite of decayed primary teeth, they will affect your adult teeth as they come out.

“I think we need to think more about prevention and fluoride is one of those things.”

Fluoridation of water supplies is drawing intense opposition from some individuals and groups, but Dr Dickson-Swift said the evidence that it brings benefits is clear.

“I think people have a right to worry about what’s in their water, but I think we have to be guided by science,” she said.

“I don’t think you can argue with science if you understand science.

“When communities are presented with proof and evidence they can trust, they make informed decisions.”

Dental Health Week runs from Monday August 1st to Sunday August 7th.

To check if your city’s supply is fluoridated, go to https://www.health.vic.gov.au/water/is-my-water-fluoridated

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