About Us

The Indigenous Oral Health Unit (IOHU) seeks to improve oral health and better dental care for all Indigenous Australians. The unit was launched in 2011 as part of the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH) and is one of the most respected in the world.

  • Our focus

    The IOHU is concerned with Indigenous oral health, access to dental care, and the labour force and provision of dental care to this disadvantaged population.

  • Our history

    2021 marks ten years since the IOHU was launched. In its short history, the unit has had exceptional international knowledge impact, changing the way the global community perceives Indigenous oral health. 

  • Indigenous oral health

    Oral health is concerned not just with teeth but “a standard of health of the oral and related tissues that enables an individual to eat, speak, and socialise without active disease, discomfort, or embarrassment, and that contributes to general wellbeing.”

    The ramifications of poor oral health can be immense, and there are marked oral health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Oral diseases, including dental caries and periodontal diseases, are among the most prevalent diseases in the community. Their consequences result in dental problems being consistently ranked amongst the most frequently reported illness episodes by Australians, and their treatment costs constitute a large part of the $A2.6 billion spent on dental services each year. This figure increases by a factor of ten when the Indigenous Australian population is considered in isolation.

    Good oral health is an essential component of being healthy overall. The mouth is a portal for entry and a mirror of general health, and the body of evidence linking oral health to other conditions only continues to grow. Unsurprisingly, tooth loss will often restrict eating, and can thereby result in weaker nutritional intake. It can also be associated with anaemia and gastrointestinal disturbances. More complex relationships link oral infection to systemic disease, for example, diabetes.

    In Australia, Indigenous people have more caries, periodontal disease, and tooth loss than other Australians and, given that problems are more likely to go untreated, are also more likely to have teeth removed. Dental caries and periodontal disease can have significant effects on eating, sleep and rest, and social roles. There are many factors impeding the availability of dental care for the Indigenous community, amongst them physical access to services for rural and remote communities, cultural appropriateness of treatment, education on the maintenance of healthy teeth and nutrition, and financial restrictions.

    Many oral health problems suffered by Indigenous Australians share risk factor characteristics with wider general health problems. This means that while a great deal of work needs to be done, we can choose to see this as an opportunity to create positive change. Efforts to encourage healthy eating, for example, are likely to have a positive impact not just on the oral health of the community but could also lead to reduced incidence of heart disease, obesity, and anaemia. An oral health campaign around links with drinking alcohol and smoking could have ramifications not just on oral health, but rates of oral cancer. Such associations mean that the potential benefits of improvements in Indigenous oral health could extend to have numerous other health benefits, and as we learn more about these links, our capacity to improve the situation will only increase. Improved information and understanding of oral health and dental care for this group is absolutely essential for the development and implementation of informed, effective public health policy.

  • Volunteer opportunities

    Find out more about the opportunities available for volunteer work in Indigenous oral health. Please note, these links lead to external websites.

    • The Tooth Mob Dental Volunteer Program: all expenses (all flights departing major Australian cities, accommodation, insurance and registration) are covered for volunteer dentists and nurses.
    • Filling the Gap: projects in rural and coastal NSW, QLD, and Darwin for paid locum dentists as well as volunteer dentists, dental assistants, hygienists and therapists. Programs ensure that airfares, transport and accommodation are covered for all participants.
    • Kimberley Dental Team: various opportunities for volunteers.
  • Notable achievements

    • The Hon Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, promoted IOHU’s work in the recently released Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (2021).

    • Government dental services in each state and territory engaged with IOHU to facilitate roll-out of silver fluoride varnish as a culturally-accepted, safe and effective strategy to preventing dental caries among remote-dwelling Indigenous children for whom access to regular dental care is not possible.

    • NHMRC worked with IOHU to produce a case study on Indigenous child oral health, showcasing advances in this field in the past ten years.

    • IOHU yielded policy-changing publications using Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children data, national surveys of oral health, and has led two cohort studies (one in Indigenous children, recruited in pregnancy, and one in Indigenous adults).

    • IOHU’s research program has demonstrated Indigenous adults carry a high risk of HPV carriage associated with oropharyngeal (throat) cancer, and Indigenous childhood dental caries lead to risk of dental caries in adulthood.

    • IOHU’s partnerships with ACCHOs have established that dental disease among Indigenous adults is a consequence of poor access to culturally-safe dental provision, and that cultural competency training needs to be at the heart of dental institution teaching programs.

    • IOHU’s oral microbiome transplant work is under US patent review; Provisional Patent Application 63/132,436, filed: Dec 30, 2020. Over 150 publications on Indigenous oral health have come directly from IOHU’s research program, including work in Africa with infant oral mutilation.

    • Professor Jamieson was awarded a prestigious Distinguished Scientist Award from the International Association of Dental Research, one of only five since 1960 ever presented to an Australian (2020).

    • IOHU has developed future research leaders at both national and international levels, recognised by one UoA Doctoral medal, six UoA Graduate Dean’s commendation awards, and a UoA VC’s Award for Outstanding Achievement.