AMA Report Card highlights gap in Indigenous dental health

28 Nov 2019

The AMA Report Card on Indigenous Health 2019 has found an unacceptable state of oral health among the Indigenous community, and that there are fewer than 100 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander dental practitioners in Australia.

The report card shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and children have dental disease at two or three times the rate of their non-Indigenous counterparts in urban, rural, and remote communities, and are five times more likely to have missing teeth.

AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, said that good oral health is fundamental to overall health and wellbeing as it allows people to eat, speak, and socialise without pain, discomfort, or embarrassment.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pre-school and primary school-aged children are more likely to be hospitalised for dental problems, and are less likely to receive preventive care, and adults and children from Indigenous backgrounds have much higher levels of untreated tooth decay,” Dr Bartone said.

“Poor oral health complicates and contributes to other illnesses, especially rheumatic heart disease and diabetes – illnesses that afflict Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians at a far greater rate than their non-Indigenous peers.”

Dr Bartone highlighted that simple dental care could prevent widespread oral disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but affordable care is often inaccessible. He described Government investment into Indigenous oral health services as discretionary and short-term, with piecemeal and arbitrary funding.

“Water fluoridation, reducing sugar consumption, oral health promotion, and fluoride varnish programs from the eruption of the first tooth all help to prevent tooth decay,” Dr Bartone said.

Dr Bartone outlined the AMA’s calls on all levels of Government to treble their investment in the Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme, and to set a goal of 780 Indigenous dental practitioners by 2040 to promote employment parity in the dental workforce. This will help create a culturally safe oral health care service for Indigenous Australian’s and promote better health outcomes.

AMA Report Card on Indigenous Health 2019 key recommendations:

Water Fluoridation

  • Governments must commit to a minimum standard of 90 per cent population access to fluoridated water.

Dental Workforce

  • A strategic approach and additional investment are required to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the dental practitioner workforce.

Oral Health Promotion

  • Australian Government investment in oral health promotion should be reinstated and evidence-based initiatives implemented.
  • The Australian Government should introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.


  • The availability of comprehensive oral health data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be improved to enable effective monitoring and performance measurement.

Service Provision

  • Service models must be developed and implemented in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Funding arrangements must reflect the varying costs of providing services in regional and remote areas.

The AMA Indigenous Health Report Card 2019 is available here.

Read the full media release here.