Gaps in smiles and services: a cross-sectional study of dental caries in refugee-background children

BMC Oral Health. 2015 Jan 22;15:10. doi: 10.1186/1472-6831-15-10.


Background: Refugees are reported to experience high rates of dental disease, although there are limited data on refugee children. The aim of this study was to report on oral health in refugee-background children in Australia, and to assess their follow-up at dental services.

Methods: Cross-sectional study of opportunistic oral health screening and subsequent dental service use in refugee-background children attending a refugee health clinic in Victoria, Australia, between November 2006-November 2010.

Results: 350 patients (0-18 years, mean age 8 years 7 months) had oral health screening; 241 (68.9%) were born overseas, (176 Africa, 65 other countries) and 109 (31.1%) were born in Australia to African-background families. Parents were concerned about oral health in 65/341 (19.1%) children, with specific concern about caries in only 9/341 (2.6%). On assessment, 155/336 (46.1%) had visible caries and 178/345 (51.6%) had caries experience (dmft/DMFT > 0). Where parents were concerned about caries, they were likely to be present (positive predictive value = 100%), however absence of parent concern about caries was not reassuring (negative predictive value = 56.1%).Compared to Australian-born children of African background; African-born children were more likely to be referred for further dental care (adjusted PR 1.33, 95% CI [1.02-1.73]), although there was no statistically significant difference in caries prevalence. African-born children were less likely to have caries compared to other overseas-born children (adjusted PR 0.73, 95% CI [0.58 - 0.93]). Overall 187/344 (54.4%) children were referred for further dental care; 91/124 (73.4%) attended any dental appointment. Attendance rates were 90% with a phone reminder system for appointments, attendance reduced when this system lapsed.

Conclusions: Oral health is an important public health issue in refugee-background children, despite low levels of parent concern and very few parent reported caries. Routine direct oral health assessment is important in refugee-background children and co-ordinated health systems may help improve their attendance at dental services.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attitude to Health
  • Blacks / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • DMF Index
  • Dental Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Dental Caries / epidemiology*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Oral Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Parents / psychology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Refugees / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Victoria