THE Australian Dental Association hopes to expand water fluoridation in areas including the Wimmera to help reduce high tooth decay rates.
Figures released this month show almost half of Australian children aged five to 10 experience tooth decay in their baby teeth.
The Wimmera has historically high rates of tooth decay, with Dental Health Services Victoria data showing children in the Grampians region had the highest decay rates in the state last year.
Australian Dental Association Victorian branch chief executive Matthew Hopcraft said water fluoridation was an important and cost-effective preventative measure in reducing tooth decay rates.
"About 90 per cent of the state has access to fluoridated water, but the 10 per cent that doesn't is in regional and rural areas," he said.
"There are a number of areas in the Wimmera that don't have fluoridated water.
"We're really keen to work with the next four-year term of government, the health minister and Department of Health to encourage expansion of fluoridation into those regions, because it would help reduce that disparity we see with high tooth decay rates."
Of Wimmera towns on reticulated water supplies, Horsham and Ararat are the only two with fluoridated water.
Associate Professor Hopcraft said improving access to dental services was also an important factor in addressing tooth decay rates.
"Across all of health we often see poorer health outcomes in regional areas - oral health is no different in that regard, and access to services is definitely a part of that," he said.
"The smaller the towns, the harder it is to access dental services.
"People in some parts of Melbourne can walk 50 metres and find a dentist, whereas in the Wimmera, people might be travelling 100 or 200km.
"We know visiting the dentist regularly is really important in maintaining good oral health, so when you've got access barriers, that has an impact."
Associate Professor Hopcraft said attracting dentists to regional and rural areas was difficult, but that was slowly changing.
"La Trobe University opened a dental school in Bendigo about 10 years ago, and a lot of the dentists they train are from regional areas," he said.
"The university is telling us a lot of their graduates go out and work in regional areas."
Associate Professor Hopcraft said waiting times could also be contributing to poor oral health, because people might put off seeing a dentist if they had to wait, and hence leave potential problems untreated.
As of December, Wimmera people were waiting an average of 17.5 months for general public dental care.
In 2017-18, the average waiting time was 17.7 months.
Associate Professor Hopcraft said another important measure to address tooth decay was education.
He said many people might not acknowledge the correlation between sugar consumption and poor dental health.
"I find it hard to believe people don't know, but I don't think people really think about it," he said.
"Sugary drinks is part of it, but it's the amount of sugar we consume in general that's a concern. For example, Nutri-Grain is 25 per cent sugar, and tomato sauce is loaded with sugar, as are our fast foods.
"It's really important to make people aware of how much sugar is in the food they're eating.
"I think we've got to work on junk food marketing targeted towards kids. They are exposed to so much, and that plays into shaping what they eat."
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox twice weekly from the Wimmera Mail-Times. To make sure you're up-to-date with all the news from across the Wimmera, sign up below.