22 Nov 2019

AMA Report Card on Indigenous Health 2019

Good dental and oral health is fundamental to overall health and wellbeing, yet the state of oral health among the Indigenous community is unacceptable, and there are fewer than 100 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander dental practitioners in Australia, a new AMA Report Card has found.

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, the AMA Report Card on Indigenous 2019 shows.

“The state of oral health among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Australia is unacceptable,” AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, said today.

“Good oral health is fundamental to overall health and wellbeing. 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.

“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.

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

“Simple dental care can give people the best chance of leading a pain-free, healthy life – yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often lack access to affordable care.

“All Australians, particularly those in rural and remote areas, need good-quality, affordable dental care. Unfortunately, governments see oral health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as discretionary and short-term. Funding is piecemeal and arbitrary.

“Availability of dental services should be based on need. Funding should be transparent and every opportunity taken to build the community-controlled health sector with direct funding of vital prevention and dental treatment programs for the communities they serve.

“A significant proportion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population lives without access to affordable, culturally appropriate dental care.

“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.

“In 2017, only 98 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were registered as dental practitioners. We know that Indigenous people have better health outcomes when they receive culturally safe health care in a service where staff understand and respect them.

“The AMA 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.

“We urge all political leaders, at all levels of Government, to take note of this Report Card, and be motivated to work in partnership with Aboriginal peak bodies to find effective solutions and implement the recommendations.”

Since 2002, the AMA Indigenous Health Report Cards have covered important health issues, including the Closing the Gap Strategy, ear health, rheumatic heart disease, and incarceration.

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 at

22 November 2019

CONTACT:        Maria Hawthorne       02 6270 5478 / 0427 209 753

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