World's first conference on indigenous oral health
SUMMARY: Dental experts are gathering at the University of Adelaide in South Australia to narrow the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous oral health.
Posted: August 26, 2014
The University of Adelaide in South Australia is set to host the inaugural International Indigenous Oral Health Conference, the first of its kind in the world dedicated solely to the issue of indigenous people's oral health.
Lisa Jamieson, associate professor and director of the university's indigenous Oral Health Unit, said that across national borders, there is a overarching trend of oral health problems among native peoples.
"Oral health has been a major issue for indigenous populations around the world for many years, but until now there has never been a conference focused solely on addressing these issues," Jamieson told Newsmaker. "Indigenous peoples in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand historically have experienced very similar oral health problems, and we're now at the crossroads in terms of healthcare and cultural support for communities."
In the U.S., Native American children have some of highest rates of dental caries (cavities) in the country, according to the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Judith Albino, clinical professor at the University of Colorado School of Public Health and director and principal investigator of the Center for Native Oral Health Research, reported that Native Americans ages 6-11 have an average of 4.3 teeth surfaces that decayed or been filled. Clearly, she noted, there are some serious setbacks in terms of oral health for kids.
While dental experts know there's a huge problem, it's not well understood why native tribes experience a disproportionately higher amount of dental issues than other sectors of the population.
The same holds true for indigenous Australians. Indigenous people suffer from more cavities, periodontal diseases and tooth loss than non-indigenous people, according to Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet. Tooth decay is more commonly left untreated, leading to more extractions.
Oral health setbacks
Oral diseases can cause severe infection and tooth loss. Cavities are nearly 100 percent preventable, yet a large chunk of the indigenous population continues to be plagued by toothaches, along with swollen gums and periodontal disease.
One possible reason for the discrepancy between indigenous people and non-indigenous people is limited access to culturally appropriate and timely dental care, especially for those living in rural and remote areas. In addition, information about how to maintain healthy teeth and mouths, as well as nutritional guidance, is less available to this part of the Australian population.
Another explanation, Albino suggests, is poor oral health in many tribal groups has become commonplace for so long, so they view chronic health conditions as "unfortunate facts of life."
"From that mindset, rampant tooth decay in childhood is a given," Albino told the NIH. "Once tribal members realize that tooth loss doesn't need to be a fact of life, I think we'll start to see some of the changes that we're beginning to see with other health issues."
And that's exactly what the International Indigenous Oral Conference seeks to do, not only for native people in the U.S. but all over the world. The conference will bring together a number of experts in the field who are pushing for new solutions to this old problem. By sharing multinational knowledge, researchers are hopeful they can create some influential outcomes.
The conference will take place August 27 to 29, drawing dental researchers and delegates from around the world, including the U.S., Brazil, Canada and New Zealand.