Anangu oral health: The status of the Indigenous population of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands


Kaye Roberts-Thomson, The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Dental Statistics and Research Unit, The University of Adelaide, South Australia. Email:


Objective: To describe oral health in the Anangu Pitjantjatjaraku lands in South Australia and to compare with earlier surveys and national data.

Design: Descriptive.

Setting: Data were collected at the time of dental care service provision, according to World Health Organization protocols, at the request of the Nganampa Health Council on optical mark reader forms.

Participants: There were 356 Anangu adults and 317 children surveyed.

Results: The mean number of teeth affected by dental caries in the deciduous dentition in young children, aged 5–6 years, was double (mean 3.20) that of the overall Australian child population aged 5–6 years (mean 1.44). In contrast to the decline in deciduous caries in Australian children generally, Anangu children aged 5–9 years had a 42% increase in the mean number of teeth affected since 1987. Adults experienced low levels of dental caries, but severe periodontal disease was more prevalent among diabetics (79%) compared with-non-diabetics (13.8%). Tooth loss was found more frequently among adults with diabetes (mean 5.51) than non-diabetics (mean 1.53).

Conclusions: Oral health promotion strategies, in association with general health strategies, need to be developed to improve oral health in this remote Aboriginal population.

What this paper adds: Recent studies have shown that oral health of Indigenous children is worsening, but there has been little documentation of the changing oral health status of Indigenous adults.

This study notes the deterioration of oral health in both children and adults since 1987/88. The relationship between glycaemic control, periodontal diseases and tooth loss in Indigenous adult populations needs to be further investigated.