Getting information out of people can sometimes be a bit like extracting teeth. So it was with some trepidation I headed off this week to the dentist – I can’t tell you his name – and asked him to open his mouth.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. “I have more fillings than I have teeth,” he admitted. “I have had teeth extracted, capped, crowned, root canal therapy. Pretty much anything I do to my patients I have had done myself, so I have a certain empathy.”

He still vividly recalls his own first terrifying visit to the dentist at age five. “I was taken to this building, led upstairs where this man dressed from head to toe in white picked me up, put me in a chair, shoved a mask on my face and the next thing I remember was waking up with a mouth full of blood.”

He was the last of the generation of Australians with really bad teeth. By the time he entered the profession himself, flossing, fluoride and improvements in diet had done wonders for our dental health.

Right up until the mid ’90s things continued to improve and at Australia’s dental health peak the average 12-year-old had just one decayed, missing or filled permanent tooth. But now the incidence of dental decay among children is dramatically on the rise.

It seems the children who grew up with “tough teeth” thanks to Mrs Marsh and her liquid and chalk demonstrations in the ’70s and ’80s are neglecting their own children’s teeth. Children are brushing less regularly, not visiting the dentist as often and consuming more sugary drinks than water.

It seems astonishing that advanced dental decay, an entirely preventable condition, is now the main reason for hospitalisation of children under 14.

Perhaps more dentists over 55 should be opening their mouths.


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