Dental Health Survey Shows Kiwis Have Nothing to Smile About

( A new survey into the dental health of Kiwis has revealed that more than 80% of us have cavities with many failing to brush, floss or rinse and the majority suffering from early signs of gum disease.

The Oral-B Powerbrush Survey investigated the oral hygiene habits of New Zealanders and the results show Kiwis are ignoring the most basic dental hygiene guidelines according to experts.

The study showed oral health issues were common with more than eight out of 10 (81%) Kiwis having had cavities, more than half (51%) experiencing bleeding gums – a common sign of gingivitis – and a further four out of 10 (42%) admitting to having bad breath at some stage.

Just over half (55%) of Kiwis brush their teeth the dentist recommended twice per day and around one third (36%) brush once per day. One in 10 (10%) Kiwis brush less often than once a day.

Dr Hisham Abdalla, an Auckland based international lecturer in dentistry, says he is disappointed that so few of us take care of our teeth and that the financial and social costs of oral diseases are an increasing burden on society.

“The obvious problems are things like bad breath, unattractive smiles, bleeding and sore gums, tooth loss and decayed teeth. However, poor oral health can also lead to gum disease which can seriously affect general health,” says Dr Abdalla.

“Gum disease does not hurt usually, but can progress to destroying the jaw bone over time leading to tooth loss. Gum disease over a period of time increases the person’s risk for many other diseases,” he says.

The study found that more than eight out of 10 (82%) people floss less often than once a day, with only 4% of Kiwis flossing twice a day. Mouthwash use has a similar profile as flossing in frequency with 85% not using mouthwash once a day and 5% using it twice per day.

It’s no surprise then that more than half of us (55%) visit the dentist or dental nurse less often than once a year.

More than eight out of 10 (84%) of us said the thing we liked least about visiting the dentist was the cost! This was followed by pain (13%) and the inconvenience of having to find the time during the day (9%).

“Our mouths are full of bacteria and the food we eat leaves debris. Failing to clean this away properly means the leftover food debris sits in our mouths and begins to rot. We need to brush this away along with the sticky bacteria called biofilms if we want to stay healthy, have fresh breath and be presentable,” says Dr Abdalla.

Nearly two thirds of respondents (65%) said they didn’t mind the routine of brushing their teeth, however for 5% of New Zealanders it was a chore they tended to dread.

Despite these results more than half (54%) of Kiwis rated their overall oral health as good. A further 16% said it was excellent with nearly one third (30%) rating their oral health as fair or poor.

Most of us (69%) agree our parents did a good to excellent job of instilling oral hygiene habits. There was also a noticeable improvement from having being taught those habits to passing them onto our own children. Nearly eight out of 10 (79%) parents believed they are doing a slightly better job at educating their children on dental hygiene than their parents did.

Despite finding that a great many of us weren’t taking good care of our own smiles, it is a desired attribute in a soul mate. More than nine out of 10 (91%) Kiwis said having a nice smile is important when it comes to finding a partner.

When it came to voting for a New Zealander with the most powerful smile, the results were surprising. More than four out of 10 (43%) respondents voted rugby star Richie McCaw as having the most powerful smile. McCaw bet Prime Minister John Key at 38%, Sir Peter Jackson at 9% and Graham Henry and Helen Clark, both at 5%.

Psychologist Sara Chatwin says it’s likely Richie McCaw’s smile was perceived the most powerful due to New Zealand’s iconic sporting status.

“Kiwis are particularly fond of our sports heroes and similarly we tend to define ourselves by our sports and sporting achievements. Sports people tend to be seen as non-contentious, feel-good types with whom we would all like to associate”.

Dr Abdalla says the proper routine is brushing the gums and teeth with a soft brush or power brush twice a day for two minutes, flossing once a day and using an alcohol free mouthwash once or twice a day.

“The brush should be soft and small and ideally a power brush, like the Oral-B Triumph Power Brush. They are small, soft and the oscillating-rotating heads are much more efficient in removing sticky, bacteria infected food debris (plaque) in the prescribed two minutes. I find Oral B Power Brushes easier to use than a manual toothbrush too.”

The survey was carried out in conjunction with Oral-B’s most technologically advanced toothbrush – the Oral-B Triumph with Smart Guide. This brush is embedded with microchips which track how consumers are brushing and sends a signal wirelessly to the remote control display which provides while-you-brush real-time feedback.

Media Release 27 February 2012.