Oral health of children

This section provides the latest information about oral health of children living in New Zealand.

Two measures of children's oral health are:

  • percentage of children who are caries-free
  • the lifetime experience of dental decay - measured as the number of decayed, missing or filled teeth, in primary teeth (dmft) or permanent teeth (DMFT).

The oral health of older children continues to improve

Between the start of the millennium and 2019, the oral health of five-year-old children and children in school-year eight improved. The improvements among older children were more substantial in both cases.

Between 2000 and 2019, the proportion of five-year-old children that were caries-free (i.e. had no past or current dental decay experience) increased from 52.1% to 58.8%, but was fairly stable for most of this period, with most of the improvement occurring between 2007–2011. The proportion of caries-free children in school-year eight rose steadily from 42.2% to 68.5% (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Percent of children who were caries-free, by age group, 2000-2019 (%)

 

Among five-year-old children, the mean dmft (decayed missing and filled primary teeth) was 1.9 in 2019 (Figure 2). The mean dmft increased between 2000 and 2007 but was essentially unchanged through the 2010s.

This period coincides with a decline in the number of children seen by the Community Oral Health Service. As neither caries-free rates nor mean dfmt among five-year-olds changed much during the 2010s despite this, it appears that these fewer children may be carrying a higher burden of disease.


Between 2000 and 2019, the mean number of DMFT (decayed missing and filled permanent teeth) of children in school-year eight dropped from 1.6 to 0.7 (Figure 2/right). This means that on average, they had fewer than half as many decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth in 2019 compared to 2000.

Figure 2: Mean dmft (five-year-old children) and DMFT (children in school-year eight), 2000–2019

 

Māori and Pacific children have worse oral health


Māori and Pacific children in both age groups were less likely to be caries-free than children of European/Other ethnicity (Figure 3). Pacific children, in particular, had poor caries-free rates, with only one in three five-year-olds and half of the children in school-year eight having no history of dental caries.
Figure 3: Five-year-old children & children in school-year eight seen by community oral health services who were caries-free, by ethnic group, 2019

 

Regarding decayed, missing or filled teeth, Māori and Pacific children in both age groups had worse oral health than children of European/Other ethnicity – with younger children having around three times as many decayed, missing or filled teeth (Figure 4). However, the contrast between different ethnicities was less pronounced in older children.

Figure 4: Mean dfmt (five-year-olds) and DMFT (children in school-year eight) among children seen by community oral health services, 2019

Geographic breakdown of oral health statistics

In 2019, the DHBs with the lowest percentage of caries-free five-year-olds were:

  • Counties Manukau (43.5%)
  • Lakes (44.3%)
  • Northland (45.3%)

The DHBs with the lowest percentage of caries-free children in school-year eight were:

  • Northland (45.4%)
  • Bay of Plenty (56.2%)
  • Lakes (56.3%)

The DHBs with the highest mean decayed, missing or filled primary teeth among five-year-old children were:

  • Northland (3.5)
  • Counties Manukau (2.8)
  • Lakes (2.5)

The DHBs with the highest mean decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth among children in school-year eight were:

  • Northland (1.1)
  • Lakes (1.1)
  • Bay of Plenty (1.0)

For more data, visit the Ministry of Health 's oral health data and stats webpage

 

References

  1. Ministry of Health. (2019). Oral health data and stats 2018. URL: http://www.health.govt.nz/nz-health-statistics/health-statistics-and-data-sets/oral-health-data-and-stats/age-5-and-year-8-oral-health-data-community-oral-health-service (accessed February 2020).
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