“What are we doing to our babies’ teeth?” Barriers to establishing oral health practices for Indigenous children in South Australia

Publication Name

BMC Oral Health


Background: During the 1970s, optimal oral health was experienced more frequently amongst Indigenous children in Australia than their non-Indigenous counterparts. As a result of public health interventions targeting oral disease, oral health has improved for most children; however, Indigenous children today experience oral disease at alarmingly high rates. A history of colonisation, assimilation, racism and cultural annihilation has had profound impacts on oral health for Indigenous peoples; compounded by environmental dispossession and a shift from traditional diets to one of processed and nutrient-poor foods, often high in sugar. Methods: This project aimed to identify factors related to the increased occurrence of caries in Indigenous children. Using purposive sampling from the larger project, this paper thematically analyses 327 motivational interviews to explore current barriers impeding parental efforts to establish oral health and nutrition practices for Indigenous children. Representation of socioeconomic positions of families were compared across themes, as based on maternal age, employment, residency and number of children in care. Results: Findings resulted in a conceptual model of barriers that exist across knowledge, social, structural and parental factors. Major thematic results include: social consumption of processed foods, busy households, misleading nutrition marketing, sugar cravings and lack of oral health and nutrition knowledge. Conclusion: A discussion of the findings results in the following recommendations increased oral health promotion efforts in non-metropolitan areas; utilisation of community experiences in creating strategies that encourage oral health and nutrition knowledge; and the extension of oral health initiatives and future research to include all family members. Trial registration Australian New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry ACTRN12611000111976; registered 01/02/2011.

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Funding Sponsor

National Health and Medical Research Council



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