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The hole tooth: "Alarming" decay in SA child dental health

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The State Government has sounded a warning on child dental health, concerned with an “alarming” rise in the number of children hospitalised with tooth decay - including one case involving a child as young as three having all her teeth removed.

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Health Minister Jack Snelling said in the last year 2500 children under the age of eight – including 24 aged under one-year-old – were hospitalised for dental treatment under a general anaesthetic, for procedures including fillings and extractions.

He said the number represented a 55 per cent increase over the last decade, with authorities blaming “sugary food and drinks, the consumption of non-fluoridated bottled water and overall poor oral hygiene”.

It has prompted a call for parents to book their child in for a dental check-up “using either the free School Dental Service or a private dentist”.

“There really is no excuse for parents not to be taking care of the dental care of their children when we are lucky enough to have access to the free School Dental Clinic,” Snelling said.

“Good oral health habits need to start from day one… decay in baby teeth is a pretty alarming predictor of decay in adult teeth.

“Simple things like making healthy food choices, drinking plain tap water, brushing teeth twice a day and scheduling regular dental check-ups are essential and can prevent extractions and fillings.

The Government said tooth decay was one of the leading causes of preventable hospitalisations, citing research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The School Dental Service is available for most children under 18, including babies and children not yet enrolled in school.

But currently only around 146,800 SA children are enrolled – less than half the total number enrolled in schools where clinics are available.

Dr Mark Penrose, the SA Dental Service’s senior lead clinician, said the service remained “concerned about the increasing numbers of young children with dental decay”.

He said he found it “frustrating, because I know how preventable it is”.

“But I also find it’s very distressing for parents and children,” he said, citing one case where he performed a “full clearance… where you take every tooth out of a child’s mouth”.

“The child was about three or four, and every tooth had to be removed… and she won’t be getting another one for about two or three years after that,” he said.

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