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Reality Check-up on Children’s Dental Health

HBF report reveals a gap between perceived and actual dental health of Australian children.

HBF has just completed its latest health commentary report, examining the key elements of Australian children’s dental – including general health, orthodontics and mouthguards.

Getting kids to take good care of their teeth can be easier said than done. To help, we surveyed 625 parents of six to 17-year-olds from WA, NSW and Victoria about their children’s dental health, examined HBF claims data, and enlisted clinical health experts to explain the common barriers to good dental health during childhood and offer advice on how to overcome them.

Dental health

The report reveals that although in reality around half of children are experiencing tooth decay, two thirds of parents rate their child’s dental health as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.

Dr Justin Soon, Assistant Principal Dentist at LifeCare Dental, said, “Tooth Decay, although largely preventable, is actually the most common chronic disease of childhood. It’s important that parents assist their children to develop and maintain good oral hygiene practices from a young age.”

The statistics reveal just how big the gap between perception and reality of children’s dental health is:

  • Two thirds of parents rate their child’s dental health as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’
  • Only two thirds of kids brush their teeth twice a day
  • 27% of parents say that their kids never floss
  • 9% of parents are unaware of how often their children floss

Dr Rodney Jennings, Specialist Paediatric Dentist at The Smile Club, said, “At least half of children start school with decayed teeth, the vast majority of which is preventable by regular and thorough brushing and flossing.”

HBF Head of Provider Relations, Jade Furness, also points to a correlation between an annual scale and clean, and good oral health, “Eighty per cent of our young members who had an annual scale and clean had no fillings performed.”

Although 80% of eligible WA students were enrolled in the Government’s School Dental Program for free preventative treatment, a considerable number of children still accessed these services in the private system in 2016. A total of 41,774 (32%) of HBF members aged six to 17 years had at least one scale and clean in the private system.


According to HBF claims data, in 2016 the average out-of-pocket cost for orthodontic treatment for six to 17-year-olds was $1,308 for the year.

HBF Head of Provider Relations, Jade Furness, said, “We know braces can cost between $5000 and $9000 for an 18-month course of treatment, and our claims data reveals that between the ages of nine and 13, the average annual cost for children’s orthodontic treatment increases steeply.”

The report discloses several ways to mitigate the out-of-pocket costs of orthodontic treatment via your private health cover. Generally, Australian private health insurers require members to serve a 12-month waiting period for major dental and orthodontic services.

You should ensure your private health insurance policy includes major dental and/or orthodontics at least a year before planning your first appointment with a specialist. Additionally, annual benefit limits for services such as orthodontics increase with length of membership.

“If you think your child may need braces in five to 10 years, it may pay to get dental cover sooner rather than later, so you’ve qualified for a higher annual benefit limit by the time your child gets braces. When the time comes to claim, you’ll have a lower out-of-pocket,” said Ms Furness.


Findings from the report indicate that the popularity of custom-made mouthguards is on the rise. Between 2014 – 2016, the number of HBF members aged six to 17 who had mouthguards fitted increased by 54%.

Dr Justin Soon, Assistant Principal Dentist at LifeCare Dental said, “Because they are made to suit an individual’s mouth and teeth, they fit better, making them more comfortable and less likely to impede breathing, meaning they are less likely to be rejected by kids.

While a boil-and-bite mouthguard can range from $15 to $100, Dr Rodney Jennings, Specialist Paediatric Dentist at The Smile Club, says that any saving made by choosing the cheaper option may only be short-term.

“In some cases, boil-and-bite mouthguards may actually increase the severity of an injury, as they may localise the force of an injury to a single tooth or area, rather than distributing the force across the mouth as intended. So, anything you save might be negated by a more expensive dental bill later.

“Typically, around age six to seven is when a custom mouthguard can be introduced, as the permanent teeth are erupting into the mouth and are very susceptible to injury,” said Dr Jennings.

For growing kids, a custom mouthguard generally lasts between 12 and 18 months, and it’s important to ensure it still fits – the easiest way to do this is to have it fitted at the beginning of the season for an annual sport.

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