Slow English

Podcasts about Australia for intermediate learners of English

Podcast 157 – Oral Health of Australians


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Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack

Podcast Number 157 – Oral Health in Australia

(This podcast is 13 minutes and 21 seconds long.)


An important part of a person’s overall health is their oral health.  Oral health means the health of your teeth, your gums and the muscles and bones in your mouth.  According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (an Australian government organisation), a person’s quality of life can be badly affected if they have poor oral health.  Of course, anyone who’s had problems with their teeth and gums will know how true this statement is.  I’ve had short periods in my life where I’ve had problems with my teeth, and my experience tells me it can be painful, annoying, embarrassing and make you feel very unhappy.  Added to this, it can also be expensive to treat.  In this podcast, I’d like to talk about oral health in Australia and also what programs we have to help improve it.  (Please note that I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic and anyone seeking further information should talk to their dentist.)

Healthy teeth.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Before we talk about the state of oral health for Australians, it’s probably useful to talk about some of the key terms in oral health.  Firstly, humans get 2 sets of teeth in their lifetime.  The first set are the primary teeth (also called baby teeth) which arrive beginning at age 6 months, with all 20 primary teeth usually in place by the age of 3 years.  The second and final set of teeth are the permanent teeth (also called adult teeth) and these start arriving from the age of around 6 years, with the last of the 32 permanent teeth arriving by the time the child is 12 years of age.

Tooth decay is a common disease which can affect the teeth.  In short, small holes (called cavities) can appear in the tooth structure, which affects the health and the strength of the tooth.  As this is the most common problem associated with poor oral health, counting the number of teeth in a person’s mouth which are affected by decay, or missing as a result of decay, is a good way to measure your oral health. The term is called the DMFT score, which is short for Decayed, Missing, or Filled Teeth – DMFT.  Perfect teeth would therefore have a DMFT score of 0.

Our knowledge about oral health in Australia comes from some excellent studies which have been done on large groups of Australians.  From these studies, we can infer the overall oral health of all Australians.  The following information is from a 2012 study involving around 25,000 children aged 5 – 14.  For baby teeth in children aged 5 – 10 years, the average DMFT score was 1.5.  Around 27% of these children had untreated decay in their teeth.  That’s around 1 in 4 children which is worrying.

For adult teeth in children aged 6 -14 years, the average DMFT score is 0.5.  Around 11% of these children have untreated decay in their mouth. That’s around 1 in 10 children.   These numbers are quite good, but this is only because these teeth are fairly new, so they haven’t had much time to get cavities in them.

Other studies have looked at the oral health of adults in Australia.  The following information is from studies of around 15,000 Australian adults in 2004 to 2008, and 2017 to 2018, for people 15 years old or older. The adult results are somewhat worse compared to Australian children.  Here, the average DMFT was 11.2.   In addition, around 32% of people were found to have one or more teeth with untreated decay.  That’s around 3 in 10 people.  Only 11% of adults in the studies had no decay at all in their permanent teeth, a low 1 in 10 people.  These numbers are worse than the numbers for children, indicating a worsening of oral health as people get older.

My own experience with tooth decay has been quite bad.  When I was growing up, I must admit that I did not know a lot about tooth decay and how to prevent it. I guess this says a lot about the lack of education on this topic back in the 1950s and 1960s.  I have painful memories of visits to the dentist in my late teens and early twenties, when the dentist had to do lots of fillings, and in a few cases remove teeth which were very badly decayed.  Toothache is, in my opinion, one of the worst types of pain you can get.

Toothache is very unpleasant.
Image by Sammy-Sander from Pixabay

In addition, there was no fluoride in the drinking water of Western Australia, where I grew up, until the late 1960s, which meant my teeth missed out during my childhood on getting the important protection which fluoride can give against tooth decay.

Nowadays, children and adults in Australia have much better information about what causes tooth decay and how to prevent it.  For example, there are naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth.  When you eat sugary foods, some of these bacteria will use the sugar to create the energy they need.  This process produces acid which eats into your teeth.  Over time this process produces dark spots on your teeth which become the holes or cavities, which is dental decay.

To prevent dental decay, or cavities, the most important things to do are:

  1. Control how much sugar you eat – the less the better.
  2. Clean your teeth twice a day and floss your teeth every day.
  3. Use a toothpaste which contains fluoride, as fluoride helps to protect the teeth against the effects of the acid which causes cavities.
  4. Have a yearly check up at the dentist, in order to identify and treat early any cavities.

A fluoride toothpaste, a good quality toothbrush and dental floss – all needed if you want to keep healthy teeth.

Around 90% of Australians have their drinking water fluoridated, which means that very small amounts of fluoride have been added.  This has contributed strongly to improved oral health in Australia.  Various studies have shown that drinking fluoridated water reduces dental decay by between 26% and 44% for children and adults of all ages.

One of the issues with oral health in Australia is the high cost of dental care.  In Australia, our Medicare program (see podcast does not cover visits to the dentist.  This means that most Australians must pay for their own dental care and it can be expensive.  For those adults who receive government social benefit payments, there is a free government dental program for their children up to 17 years old.  (For more information, see

In addition, state governments throughout Australia also have dental care programs.  For example, in Victoria, most dental services are provided free for all children up to 12 years of age.  Generally, adults are only eligible if they receive a government social benefit payment.

(See  Other states may have different programs and you should check the relevant state government website.)

For most Australians however, they must pay for their own dental care at a private dental practice.  To reduce the impact of such costs, many Australians enrol for private health insurance cover, which, for a cost, will provide a benefit or refund to help cover the cost of dental services.  For example, my private health insurance provides two free annual checkups at our local dentist, which I think is a great idea to help prevent decay and maintain good oral health.

There are those who have argued that our Medicare program should also cover the cost of dental services for all Australians, which would no doubt result in a much higher standard of oral health in Australia.  However, that would be a costly program for the federal government. To date in Australia, no federal government has decided to implement such a program due to the high cost.

If you have a question or comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. Or, you can send me an email at  I would love to hear from you.  Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast.  I will write back to you, in English of course.  If you would like to take a short quiz to see if you have understood this podcast, you will also find it on my website. Goodbye until next time.


Podcast 157 Quiz - Did you understand the podcast?

You can take the quiz as many times as you like.



according to = when someone else or a group has said something important

acid = (here) a liquid which can destroy other materials

annoying = when something makes you a little angry

associated = connected to

bacteria = single cell organisms found everywhere on earth

benefit = something which is valuable to you

checkups = (here) when the dentist checks your teeth for decay

childhood = the period when you are a child

common = something which you see quite often

contributed = has helped

cover = (here) when dental costs would be refunded by Medicare

create = make

dentist = a person who fixes and treats your teeth

eligible = when you are allowed to receive something, or do something

embarrassing = when you feel foolish or feel silly

enrol = to join a program, to join an activity

expensive = costs a lot of money

experience = when you have done something before

fairly = (here) a little bit, but not too much

filling = a treatment used by dentists to repair a tooth which has decay (cavities)

floss = like a thin length of cotton – used to clean between your teeth

fluoride = a mineral

gums = the part of your mouth which hold your teeth

identify = (here) to see something for the first time

impact = the effect

implement = to put in place

in addition = as well

indicating = (here) showing

infer = predict, guess

involving = (here) things which are included, things which are affected

issues = problems

knowledge = information about a topic

lack of = when something is not there, or only a small amount is there

late teens = from 16 to 19 years of age

measure = (here) to give something a score, showing how long, short, good or bad it is

naturally occurring = can be found on earth without being made by man

overall = including all or everything

periods = a length of time e.g. 1 week, 1 month etc

permanent = will remain for a long time

practice = a group of doctors or dentists who work together

prevent = to stop something from happening

private health insurance cover = a type of insurance to cover the cost of medical care

programs = a group of things which are done to improve or develop something

protection = when something is kept safe from harm

provided = (here) given

quality of life = how good your life is – are you happy, healthy, safe?

refund = (here) when you receive some payment back (from an insurer)

relevant = (here) appropriate, the right one to consider

score = a number which allows you to compare something to something else

somewhat = a little bit

state = (here) how good or bad something is

structure = (here) that part of a thing which holds it all together

studies = when researchers study people and things in order to learn about them

sugary foods = foods with a lot of sugar

terms = words which mean something special

there are those = a way of saying – there are people

throughout = (here) overall, everywhere

toothpaste = used with a toothbrush to clean your teeth

treat = (here) doing things to help a person overcome sickness or injury

untreated = when nothing is being done to fixed a problem or sickness or injury

worse = not as good as something else

worsening = becoming worse


  1. I really appreciated this episode on the oral health of Australians. It’s eye-opening to see how various factors impact dental health on a national level. Improving access to dental care and education about oral hygiene is so important for enhancing public health. Thanks for shedding light on these critical issues and providing valuable insights!

  2. Hello Rob, I am grateful and thankful to you for all the valuable and useful information you provide. It helped me understand the culture in Australia. It also helped me develop my English language skills. I am Fahmi, a farmer from Yemen. I want a podcast about bee care and honey production in Australia.

    • Hi Fahmy,
      Many thanks for your comment and for your kind words about my podcast. I’m glad that you find it useful. Thanks also for your suggestion of a topic. I will add it to my list for the future.
      Have a great day.

  3. Rob, another highly informative podcast. I only wish I had this information on dental care 60 years ago!! Thanks, Chris

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