Oral Health Indicators in Melanesia
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Objectives: A study of oral health indicators was undertaken in Vanuatu (pop 220,000). Risk factors include absent or sporadic dental care, changes in nutrition, and tobacco, alcohol and Areca nut. Because of a high incidence of oral cancer in Melanesia, contributed to significantly by Areca nut use, the knowledge and presence of Areca nut chewing practices in this region was also assessed. Methods: In June-July of 2007 Griffith University sponsored 6 dental students to undertake fieldwork in partnership with the Vanuatu Ministry of Health, Vanuatu, in July 2007. Interviews and oral examinations were performed, and dental hygiene education was offered to participants. Results: 156 interviews and examinations were conducted in the villages Mele and Ifira on the main island of Efate, as well as attendees at the Vila Central Hospital dental clinic. Most people interviewed were found to obtain their dietary intake chiefly from subsistence farming and fishing, with limited supplementation by store-bought food. Regular dental care was not a feature, despite the Vanuatu Health Ministry's commendable efforts to reach the metropolitan as well as outlying population. While areca (betel) nut use was less prevalent than in the neighbouring Solomons and PNG, this habit was slowly making inroads into the local population. Conclusion: Preliminary results indicate the scope to improving dental care in Vanuatu, as well as potential further education measures to prevent the introduction betel nut chewing practices. DMFTs were not a useful indicator of overall dental health, because the prevailing practice to remove diseased teeth rather than attempt preserve them. There is also opportunity for Australasian academic dentistry to partner with local Pacific Island health authorities to improve dental care in neighbouring countries.
International Association of Dental Research Australian and New Zealand Division 47th Annual Meeting