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Survey results are something to chew on

August 2, 2006

Survey results are something to chew on

New Zealanders lag behind the world when it comes to looking after our mouths, a new international survey reveals.

But the upside is, we’re better than the Aussies in a few categories!

The Colgate Oral Health Month Survey completed in 29 European and Australasian countries reveals only 58 per cent of us clean our teeth at least twice a day.

Across the ditch they are even more lax – only 54 per cent of our Aussie cousins brush twice a day or more.

At nearly 40 per cent, we also have the lowest rate of visiting the dentist on a regular annual basis. The average percentage of people across all countries doing so once a year or more was 62 per cent.

The main reason? The perceived expense. Among people who had not visited a Dentist in last 12 months, we had the highest rate of participants citing this reason, at 55 per cent. The average number in the survey citing expense as a reason was 24 per cent.

Dr Theresa Madden, Colgate Senior Lecturer in Periodontology at Otago University says despite these results, New Zealanders get good value for money from the dental profession. She fears that New Zealanders are taking unnecessary risks. If mouth cancer, gum disease and dental decay are not detected early, the consequences may be devastating, and much more expensive to treat.

“Dentists have never been as well equipped or as knowledgeable as they are today,” Dr Madden says. “Also, because as a nation we provide free dental care whilst at school, it is possible that when people have to pay, they regard it as being costly.”

Over and above perceived expense, the survey highlighted that 29 per cent of us don’t visit the dentist purely because we believe we don’t need to.

Dr Madden says the reasoning highlights the need to reinforce the role of preventative care in oral health.

“We often take our teeth and gums for granted, but don’t realise quite how important they are to us. We are happy to spend money on a new outfit or a night away, yet often perceive an investment into our oral health as being too costly.”

“But taking preventative action against these issues works out a lot better for the back pocket than waiting for the pain or trouble to start.”

One consolation is we’re tough. Only eight per cent of Kiwis who had not visited a Dentist in last 12 months cited fear as the key reason they don’t visit. The lily-livered Aussies came in at nearly 15 per cent while the survey average was almost 24 per cent.

The results indicate we’re not listening to health professionals. A survey by Colgate amongst New Zealanders last year showed only five per cent of New Zealanders are following a recommended oral care routine.

Dr Madden says home dental care should include brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, mouth rinse and regular toothbrush replacement. “The dentist and hygienist can advise those patients needing to brush more often, use special brushes, or higher concentration fluorides, to stop small cavities from growing and to eliminate sensitive teeth.“

Dr Madden also advises limiting the consumption of sugary or acidic foods and drinks and chewing sugar-free xylitol gum to stimulate saliva. She also strongly recommends avoiding all tobacco products since they greatly raise the risk of mouth cancer and gum disease.

Interestingly, most Kiwis and Aussies clean their teeth first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but few – 6.8 and 7.2 per cent respectively in NZ and Australia – clean after lunch.

Compare this with Italy and Spain where lunchtime cleaning habits witness 43% of Italians and just over 40 per cent of Spaniards cleaning after siesta.

Somewhat paradoxically, New Zealanders do rate oral health as important with eight out of 10 of us saying so. Conversely, only 3.5 per cent of Kiwis rank oral hygiene of little importance.

But while 80-odd per cent sounds good, it still ranks us at only 23 out of 29 countries in rating oral health as a priority.

About Colgate Oral Health Month: To help raise oral health awareness in the community, Colgate is hosting New Zealand’s third Oral Health Month during August 2006 in association with the New Zealand Dental Association. Colgate’s Bright Smiles Bright Futures education kits will be available to teachers in pre-schools to undertake oral health teaching sessions. There will be media advertising, educational booklets to households, and in-store promotions of Colgate Oral Care products to increase awareness of oral health and encourage a complete daily oral care regime by New Zealanders.


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