About forty percent of five year olds in northern New Zealand have dental decay, according to a new study conducted as part of a Masters thesis at the University of Auckland.

The study included all five year old children living in Northland and Auckland who received school entry dental examinations in 2014 and 2015. About two in five children were identified as having early childhood caries (ECC), a condition categorised by the presence of one or more decayed, missing or filled tooth surfaces in any primary tooth.

Māori and Pacific children, those from the most deprived neighbourhoods and those from the Northland region were found to be at higher risk. These children presented with a disproportionate level of dental decay in comparison to other groups. It was also found that children who were hospitalised for injury in their first six years had a higher prevalence of ECC than children who were not.

“The study’s conclusions back what NZDA has long advocated for, namely community water fluoridation, reducing sugary drink consumption through sugary drinks taxes, the regulation of promotion of sugary foods and drinks, and health warning labels,” said Dr Bill O’Connor, President of the New Zealand Dental Association.

The Association raised the issue of properly resourcing free community oral health services for New Zealand children last year, in an article titled ‘What About the Kids?’.

While the population-based study aimed to investigate possible associations between tooth decay and other preventable illnesses in pre-school children, Dr Bill O’Connor argues that the biggest common factors highlighted by the study are already well known.

“Maori and Pacific children are suffering here, and areas without fluoride in the water have much worse statistics than those with fluoride.

“This is an upsetting confirmation of recent trends”.

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