A year ago, the Australian Dental Association called for mandatory, national dental hygiene education to be introduced in schools.
But the issue has been met with scepticism in parts of the country.
“Dental hygiene is the last thing on the mind of most Australians,” says Dr. David Ainsworth, who chairs the Australian Medical Association’s dental hygiene committee.
“The majority of the public don’t understand the issue of racism, but they do understand that the majority of people need dental hygiene.”
Ainsworthy says the dental profession has to work hard to change attitudes, especially in schools, because people who are taught about the importance of dental hygiene are more likely to turn to them when it comes to caring for their teeth.
“When people don’t know how to take care of their teeth, they’re less likely to do dental work,” he says.
“That’s one of the things we have to work at.”
But the Dental Health Network is optimistic that changes will be made.
“There’s a need for more information, and I think we’re starting to see the changes,” says the network’s president, Joanne Dickson.
“I think it’s important for parents to get some guidance on how to get the most out of their children’s dental health.”
Dickson says her organisation, which provides dental hygiene information to schools, has seen a significant change in the way schools and parents are communicating about dental hygiene.
“We’ve seen a real shift in our messaging and I’ve been encouraged by that,” she says.
For example, she says a teacher recently asked her to help her student take a picture of the dentist he or she has been having.
“She was very excited and it’s a very important thing that she’s doing,” Dickson recalls.
“But then she said to me, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’.
I said, ‘It’s your job to take the picture.'”
Dickson hopes to see dental hygiene as a subject of study by researchers around the country in the coming year.
She also hopes that more parents will begin to share information about dental health, as it is often seen as a topic of shame.
“It’s very important that parents, and other adults, are aware that it’s an important topic,” she adds.
“And there are good resources to help them.”
But Dickson stresses that the problem is much wider than simply schools.
“For us to have dental health as an important subject of conversation, I think it needs to be part of the conversation for people to really understand what’s going on in the community,” she concludes.