Original Research

A collaboration with local Aboriginal communities in rural New South Wales, Australia to determine the oral health needs of their children and develop a community-owned oral health promotion program


Yvonne Dimitropoulos1 Graduate Diploma Dental Therapy, Oral Health Therapist *

Hasantha Gunasekera2 PhD, Sub-Dean (Education)

name here
Anthony Blinkhorn3
PhD, Chair, Population Oral Health

Roy Byun4 PhD, Senior Policy Analyst

Norma Binge5 Certificate IV in Dental Assisting, Clinic Coordinator

Kylie Gwynne6 PhD, Adjunct Associate Professor

Michelle Irving7 PhD, Research Fellow


1 Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, The University of Sydney, Australia

2 Child and Adolescent Health, The Children's Hospital at Westmead Clinical School, Sydney, Australia

3 1 Mons Road Westmead, NSW, 2145

4 NSW Health Centre for Oral Health Strategy, Sydney, Australia

5 Boggabilla Central School, South Street Boggabilla, NSW, 2409

6 Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, University of Sydney, Australia

7 Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, University of Sydney, Australia5

ACCEPTED: 24 August 2017

early abstract:

Introduction: As part of an oral health service for Aboriginal people in Central Northern New South Wales (NSW), oral health promotion was identified as a priority by the local Aboriginal community. The objective of this study was to collaborate with local Aboriginal communities to determine: (1) the oral health needs of Aboriginal children aged 5-12 years; (2) the oral health knowledge and attitudes towards oral health of parents/guardians and (3) the perceived barriers and enablers towards oral health promotion for school children by local school staff and community health workers. The results of this collaboration will inform a community owned oral health promotion program.
Methods: Aboriginal children aged 5-12 years enrolled in local schools received a dental screening by a single examiner. The number of decayed, missing and filled teeth (dmft/DMFT), plaque and gingivitis were recorded. Children completed a questionnaire assessing current oral hygiene practices, dental history and information on their diet. Parents/guardians completed a questionnaire assessing oral health knowledge and attitudes towards oral health. School staff and community health workers completed a questionnaire assessing attitudes barriers and enablers towards implementing an oral health promotion program in schools.
Results: Eighty-eight children, representing 94% of those eligible were screened, and 78 (82%) completed a questionnaire. The mean dmft/DMFT score was 5.3. Risk factors for dental caries identified included: low toothbrush ownership (35%); minimal fluoride toothpaste use (24%); limited daily tooth brushing (51%); and frequent consumption of sugary foods (72%) and soft drinks (64%). Questionnaires were completed by 32 parents/guardians and 39 school and community health workers. Parents/guardians had limited oral health knowledge. School and health staff were willing to support a health promotion program to improve dental health of children.
Conclusion: Aboriginal children living in rural and remote communities in NSW experience high rates of dental caries. Oral health promotion is urgently required to reduce the burden of dental caries and should address oral hygiene behaviours, fluoride use, and access to healthy foods and drinks.