Sink your teeth into a virtual issue on oral health

August 8th, 2019

A new free-to-read Australian Journal of Primary Health virtual issue addresses various aspects of oral healthcare, including access, vulnerable groups and new models of service delivery.
Red apple with white plaster cast of teeth

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away”: oral health requires an interdisciplinary approach

Our teeth are one of our most important assets, yet perhaps the most neglected area when it comes to looking after our health and well being.

A new Australian Journal of Primary Health virtual issue highlights interdisciplinary approaches to improving oral health, addressing access, vulnerable groups and new models of service delivery.

Chomp on some oral health facts:

  • Oral diseases are the most common non-communicable diseases in the world
  • The Global Burden of Disease Study (external link) estimate that oral diseases affect half the world’s population – that’s 3.58 billion people!
  • “Dental caries”, or tooth decay, is the most common condition
Plaster cast of teeth on blue background

When it comes to oral healthcare costs, Australians grin and bear it.

Gritting our teeth against high costs

As you can imagine, the cost of oral health diseases is high, and at least as high as that of other major non-communicable diseases, like cardiovascular diseases and cancers. Oral diseases such as tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer contribute to illness disability and death in Australia (external link). Yet policy makers and health advocates are not “enameled” by the thought of thinking about oral healthcare, perhaps partially because of their low mortality, despite the very high disease burden due to morbidity.

In Australia, only 2.1 per cent of government health spending is dedicated to dental services. Our total spend on dental care in the 2016-2017 financial year (external link) was $10.2 billion, of which individuals contributed 58 per cent in out-of-pocket costs. With costs like these on top of the threat of the drill, no wonder we don’t like visiting the dentist. In 2016-2017, about 70,200 hospitalisations for dental conditions (external link) may have been prevented with earlier treatment.

Oral diseases disproportionally affect disadvantaged and low income members of society. According to the World Health Organisation (external link), here is a very strong and consistent association between socioeconomic status (income, occupation and educational level) and the prevalence and severity of oral diseases.

Purple and white cover of Australian Journal of Primary Health

A new Australian Journal of Primary Health virtual issue is free to read until November 2019

New virtual issue to encourage interdisciplinary health approach

You probably know you should be brushing, clean between your teeth daily and paying regular visits to an oral health care professional. But did you know that nutrition, alcohol consumption, smoking and other factors affect your oral health too? With this in mind, perhaps we should look at our oral healthcare as being a “whole body” approach.

The guest editors of the new Australian Journal of Primary Health virtual issue, Dr Bradley Christian and Dr Ron Knevel of LaTrobe University, had exactly this in mind when they compiled the collection of ten papers to highlight the interdisciplinary and professional team efforts to address various aspects of oral health care. The issue covers topics such as barriers to access to oral health care for homeless adults, people with mental illness, and those in aged care facilities, as well as the role quit smoking activities, communications technology and access to other healthcare services play in increasing our oral health well being.

Dr Christian and Dr Knevel believe that integration is needed to bring preventive services to people who have access to medical care but lacking access to oral care or vice versa. There are several barriers to shifting the way oral health is managed and healthcare services are delivered:

  • Oral health is a low priority across many organisations and among policy makers
  • There is a lack of outcomes-based research that provides evidence for guidelines and best practices
  • Funding mechanisms are driven by quantity rather than quality improvement in health outcomes
  • Peer-reviewed research on the topic of models of oral healthcare is scarce

The editors hope that this issue will encourage initiatives and research to tackle these barriers, help integrate non-dental professionals into oral health and “put the mouth back into the body”.

The virtual issue is free to read online until the end of November 2019.