University of Canterbury
Christchurch four year-olds have on average 95 percent more
decay in their baby teeth than children from Wellington of the same
age, a University of Canterbury health sciences postgraduate
researcher has found.
Arthi Veerasamy says compared to all major cities in New
Zealand, Christchurch is the only major city without water
fluoridation. Christchurch nine year olds have on average 80
percent more decay in their permanent teeth than Wellington nine
Like other parts of the world, water fluoridation is a
controversial subject in New Zealand and the issue has been a
heated debate recently in Hamilton. Water fluoridation is endorsed
by the Ministry of Health but rejected by some communities and
organisations such as the Fluoride Action Network.
Owing to the pressure from anti-fluoridation campaigners,
fluoridation was stopped in some areas Canterbury region, including
Ashburton in 2002 and Timaru in 1985. A dental health survey in
October 2000 showed 60 percent of Christchurch people did not
support water fluoridation.
Health literacy is now recognised as an important component in
preventing diseases. Parents' understanding of dental issues is
very important to prevent decay in pre-schoolers, Veerasamy
No data exists regarding oral health literacy among New Zealand
parents, creating a gap in the research and knowledge base that his
study addressed. Veerasamy's research, supervised by Associate
Professor Ray Kirk, says the aim of his study was to identify the
existing level of oral health literacy among New Zealand parents
and to investigate the relationship between parents' attitude
towards water fluoridation and their oral health literacy.
Veerasamy surveyed more than 100 parents to find the level of
oral health literacy of parents of pre-school aged children
regarding their child's oral health. Thirty-eight percent of
participants had poor oral health literacy regarding their child's
oral health. Her study found oral health literacy to be low even
among parents working in the education sector.
The results also indicated that there were associations present
between parents' oral health literacy and socio-demographic
variables such as ethnicity, education and family income. Nearly
half of the parents opted for water fluoridation in Christchurch. A
strong association between parents' oral health literacy and their
attitude towards water fluoridation was identified.
"Many past studies have supported the importance of parental
health literacy in a child's health outcome. The development of the
permanent first molar is initiated in the fourth month of
intra-uterine life and teeth need to last for the child's
lifetime,'' Veerasamy says.
"The intervention to prevent oral diseases should be started
even before the birth of the child making it parents'
responsibility to protect the child's teeth. The parents are
responsible for preventing decay and caring for children's oral
health in the pre-adolescent period; so parents should have good
knowledge about preventing early childhood caries and protecting
the child's oral health system,'' Veerasamy says.