TOOTH decay is Australia's most common health problem - five times more prevalent than asthma among children - with 11 million newly decayed teeth developing each year.
According to government reports, it's also the second most costly diet-related disease in Australia, which is all the more concerning given 90% of all dental diseases are preventable.
Gympie dental hygienist Samantha Abbott urged residents to rethink their attitudes to tooth decay.
Research commissioned by the Australian Dental Association reveals an alarming 57% of Australians expect at some stage in their lives they will develop tooth decay, a condition that can be unsightly, painful and irreversible.
ADA oral health committee chairman Peter Alldritt says no one should expect to get tooth decay or accept the condition is inevitable as it can be prevented with a healthy diet and proper dental care - the main messages of Dental Health Week this week.
Dr Alldritt says the easiest way to avoid tooth decay is to be aware of what you eat and drink.
"The number one cause of tooth decay is consumption of sugary foods and drinks on a regular basis," he said.
"The bacteria in your mouth convert sugars into acids. Over time, acids eat away at the surface of a tooth, attacking the enamel, weakening the tooth and causing decay in the form of holes or cavities.
"Preventing tooth decay can be as simple as controlling consumption of sugary or acidic food and drinks between meals, drinking soft drinks through a straw to minimise the acid exposure to your teeth and eating calcium-rich foods like cheese and yogurt to help neutralise acids and protect your teeth."
Another easy way to prevent tooth decay is to maintain healthy oral hygiene habits such as brushing teeth twice a day and flossing once a day, yet more than 30% of Australians admit they are only brushing once daily, with most of us skipping the pre-bed brush, and many of us admit we avoid flossing altogether.
The study found almost 35% of parents report their children only brush once a day with more than 60% accepting that their children will get tooth decay at some point in their lifetime.
The overwhelming majority of Australians (83%) say decayed teeth and bad breath are the biggest turn offs on a first date, far more concerning than excessive body odour (5%) or poor dress sense (4%), the survey revealed.
Researchers have estimated that poor dental health contributes to 600,000 days lost from school and 1 million lost days of work each year.
The total direct costs and lost productivity due to poor dental health in Australia is $2 billion.
To prevent tooth decay
- Avoid snacking on sugary or acidic foods and drinks between meals
- Eat calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt
- Brush twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste
- Floss once a day
- Drink fluoridated tap water
- Chew sugar-free gum