CHILD dental health is going backwards with new figures showing 630 children aged 0-3 had to be admitted to hospital in South Australia for dental treatment under general anaesthetic in 2015-16.
Cases included a three-year-old child whose entire set of milk teeth had to be extracted as they were “black stumps”, dentists say.
Soaring cases of major dental work needed by children has seen a 55 per cent increase in the past decade in general anaesthetic provided to children aged 0-8 years for dental treatment in hospitals.
Health Minister Jack Snelling blamed sugary drinks and snacks as key culprits in the problem during an appeal to parents to safeguard their children’s dental hygiene and take advantage of the free SA Dental Service program for children.
“It is a very disturbing trend where we are seeing very young children often needing to be put under general anaesthetic to have work done including extractions which is entirely preventable,” he said.
“Having very young children being put under general anaesthetic to have their milk teeth pulled out is just an awful thing.”
Mr Snelling said child dental health made “leaps and bounds” in the 1970s following fluoridation of tap water but warned it was now going backwards due to factors such as widely available sugary drinks and people turning to bottled water rather than tap water.
Dr Mark Penrose from the SA Dental Service treats children under general anaesthetic and said he knows how distressing it is for the child and family.
“I have done full clearances, where I have taken every tooth out of a child’s mouth, I had a child of about three or four where every tooth had to be removed and she won’t be getting another tooth for three or four years,” he said, noting the milk teeth he extracted were “black stumps”.dental laser tips
“The bulk of the cause rests with the diet, what parents are feeding their children and getting them to drink. There is also teeth cleaning, oral hygiene — brushing the children’s teeth as they can’t brush properly until at least nine years of age.”
Dr Penrose noted even cow’s milk can cause decay, where a child is left to fall asleep with a bottle that soaks the teeth, while some seemingly healthy foods such as yoghurt may have lots of sugar.
State president of the Australian Dental Association Dr Greg Miller has also done full extractions of children under general anaesthetic.dental laser handpiece
“I have personally taken out all the teeth of a four-year-old, and all the teeth of a 19-year-old — in a first-world country like Australia that should not happen,” he said.
“The situation is very serious, the rate of decay in children under six where 50 per cent have decay on their baby teeth, and in 12-year-olds where 50 per cent have decay on one of their adult teeth, is really a dire problem.
“It is an issue of diet and cleanliness — if you eliminate sugary food and you eliminate plaque from the teeth, we know it eliminates decay in a child so it is preventable.”
Officials say only about one third of children access the SA Dental Service’s free dental scheme for children aged 0-5, while Dr Miller estimated about 90 per cent of Australian Dental Association members bulk bill care for children.