Indigenous Oral Health Unit

We seek to achieve improved oral health and better dental care for all Indigenous Australians.

The Indigenous Oral Health Unit is part of the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH). We focus specifically on the oral health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and continuing and expanding on the work already carried out by ARCPOH.

Oral health can be defined as ‘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.’

We are concerned with Indigenous oral health, access to dental care, the labour force and provision of dental care to this disadvantaged population—as there are marked oral health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Oral diseases are among the most prevalent diseases in the community with treatment costs constituting close to $2.6 billion each year. This figure increases tenfold for the Indigenous Australian population.

There are many factors impeding the availability of dental care for the Indigenous community in Australia—such as 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.

Good oral health is an essential component of being healthy overall. Tooth loss can restrict eating, which results in weaker nutritional intake that is often associated with anaemia and gastrointestinal disturbances. Oral infection has been linked to systemic disease (e.g. diabetes), with dental caries and periodontal disease having significant effects on eating, sleep and rest, and social roles.

The oral health problems suffered by Indigenous Australians share many risk factors with wider general health problems. An oral health campaign focused on links with drinking alcohol and smoking could have ramifications not just on oral health, but rates of oral cancer and other cancers. As such, the potential improvements in Indigenous oral health could extend to other health benefits.

Our improved information and understanding of oral health and dental care is absolutely essential for the development and implementation of informed, effective public health policy.

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