Tooth decay in children is a major problem across Australia, especially so in rural, remote and Indigenous communities. Children in the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) have a particular problem partly because the plant to add fluoride to the water system is no longer in use.
The good news is that these children will be able to access a special annual dental treatment and preventative program as part of an innovative research project from August this year.
The research, led by Griffith University and funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, will investigate the cost-effectiveness of a single annual dental visit to apply known preventative measures to all children.
This involves application of an antiseptic, filling grooves in susceptible teeth with resin or dental cement, and painting fluoride varnish onto tooth surfaces.
"It is necessary to treat all existing decay before application of the preventative measures," says Emeritus Professor Newell Johnson from the Menzies Health Institute Queensland and the leader of the project.
"The research team will supplement Queensland Health resources and treat all children enrolled in NPA schools by the end of the year. There will be follow-up by the research team once a year for the next few years.
"The team believes that the model can apply to remote communities across Australia, especially where it is difficult to have permanent dentists or dental therapists in such places."
Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service are supporting the research by providing access to a dental surgery at Bamaga Hospital and to the health service mobile dental van which will be located at Bamaga Primary School.
"We are very pleased to be able to support this research," says Dr Jill Newland, Health Service Chief Executive, "as it could potentially have a big impact on the oral health of young people in our region".
The researchers have conducted extensive community consultation with stakeholders and received permission from relevant authorities. These include the Community Elders, Queensland Health Chief Dental Officer, Cape York Health Council (Apunipima), Torres and Cape Health and Hospital Service, Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council (NPARC) and the Northern Peninsula Area State College (NPASC).
Dr Newland says she is impressed with the researchers’ strong community focus.
"We are always ready to assist researchers who follow the due process and whose work can lead to an improvement in health for our communities."