Indigenous health needs policy with teeth

Finbar O'Mallon
The Australian Medical Association has made a raft of proposals to improve indigenous dental health

A national program for fluoridated water program would improve oral health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Australia's peak medical body says.

The Australian Medical Association's latest indigenous health scorecard has found more government action is need to help improve oral health amongst these communities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and adults have dental disease at up to three times the rate of non-indigenous Australians.

AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said oral health was an important part of overall wellbeing, with poor oral health complicating or contributing to things like diabetes or heart disease.

"The state of oral health among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Australia is unacceptable," Dr Bartone said.

"It has a tremendous effect on quality of life, and can stop children from attending school."

The report recommends the government commit to ensuring 90 per cent of Australians have access to fluoridated water.

It's recommended boosting the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders working in dentistry, funding a national oral health campaign and collecting better data on oral health in indigenous communities.

Only 98 indigenous Australians were registered as dental professionals in 2017, with Dr Bartone saying it was important Aboriginal people received culturally appropriate care.

The government also needed to cut red tape around fluoride varnish programs pointing to the national inconsistent laws around the programs.

In NSW and Queensland, only registered dental practitioners could carry it but the AMA says it only requires minimum training.

It also recommends the government introduces a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, saying 70 per cent of Australians support such a tax.

Dr Bartone said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were more likely to be hospitalised for dental problems.

Collecting better data on the oral health of indigenous Australians would allow the government to monitor progress on dental programs, the report says.