Graphic: Flying Doctor supports improved dental health services
Tooth decay is Australia's most prevalent health problem, even though it is largely preventable through population level interventions and individual practices, (NSW Health, 2013). People living and working in rural and remote areas are disproportionately affected by problems associated with poor oral health largely because they have poorer access to services.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) has identified oral health as a priority and developed a range of innovative programs and strategies to deliver oral health care services to over 7,800 patients during 2013/14 who live in remote and rural Australia.
Dr Lara Bishop, Manager of Research and Policy, RFDS Federation Office, said for all dental services, standardised expenditure levels were the highest for residents of major cities, with expenditure levels typically lower with increasing remoteness. "Of note, the relative level of expenditure on specialist, dental and other allied services for residents of major cities was substantially higher than the expenditure levels for the other regions".
Peridontal disease is the fifth most prevalent health problem in Australia, (Evidence Based Oral Health Promotion Resource, 2011) and over 600 Australians die of oral cancer each year, (ABS, 2009). Studies show the links between oral health and aviodable illness. Gum disease is a risk factor of cardiovascular disease and oral infection is linked to kidney disease.
The 'Health Care Status and Access in Rural and Remote Tasmania' study, released by the RFDS highlighted that Tasmania has some of the worst dental health in Australia with the highest rate of complete tooth loss, the greatest number of dentures, the highest average number of missing teeth and the greatest number of people who have not seen a dentist in the last five years.
In comparison to other Australian states, 52% of Tasmanian children aged 5-6 years of age and 53.4% of 12 year olds have some experience of dental decay, (Australian Insitute of Health and Welfare, 2011).
The RFDS in Tasmania is proposing to establish a dental outreach program to those remote and rural communities that are currently unable to access exiting services. It would be provided within a flexible service structure and delivered in rural, remote and to communities of disadvantage across Tasmania.
Currently, the RFDS is collaborating with Oral Health Services Tasmania and key stakeholder groups to provide specific services that include examinations, preventative care, basic dental treatments, oral hygiene instruction and relevant nutritional advice. In addition, the RFDS supports the Flinders Island dental service by providing dentists and dental equipment.
Find out more about oral health here.