Oral Health and Self-Esteem

Oral Health and Self-Esteem

When asked about the most prevalent chronic diseases in the world, very few people identify tooth decay. Yet tooth decay is one of the most prevalent[i] communicable, infectious diseases in the world; it affects nearly half of Australian 6-year old children[ii], and more than 26,000 children under 15 years are hospitalized each year for dental treatment under general anaesthetic[iii]. It is perplexing, that, despite our growing awareness and vigilance about health, the prevalence and severity of tooth decay has been increasing in Australian children since the mid 1990s[iv].

Does tooth decay matter? Well yes, because we know that poor oral health in children is related to inattention[v], reduced school attendance[vi], and performance[V], feelings of worthlessness[v], problems with speech[vii], eating[viii] and sleep, depression and poor self-esteem[ix]. These problems can affect important experiences, such as the confidence with which children socialise with peers and approach new challenges, and these shape children’s developing identity.

Take smiling for example. Our smile tells others how happy we are to see them, how likeable we find them, and how approachable we are. Children who are self-conscious about their teeth do not smile as broadly as children with healthy teeth[x], and this can affect the way others perceive their smile, and interpret the emotions behind it. If children are already feeling self-conscious, luke-warm responses from others can further reduce fragile self-confidence and self-esteem.

So what can be done? Encouraging good oral-health behaviours in children from an early age is helpful. Developing a relationship with oral-health professionals will help prevent many potential oral-health problems. And developing resilience in your child can help reduce the impact of negative experiences on them. For more information about resilience see APA or AAP, a psychologist, GP or Maternal & child health nurse.

The Oral Health Advisory Panel (OHAP), is a group of independent healthcare professionals with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of good oral health and its impact on general wellness. The Panel takes a holistic approach to oral health.

Follow the Oral Health Advisory Panel via twitter @OHAPanel to stay up to date with practical advice on good oral health habits.

As featured on Balance by Deborah Hutton.


[i] Ha DH, Roberts-Thomson KF & Armfield JM 2011. The Child Dental Health Surveys Australia, 2005 and 2006. Dental statistics and research series no 54. Cat. No. DEN213. Canberra: AIHW. Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, published in 2011, Cat.no. DEN213.
[ii] AIHW, 2011, Child Dental Health Survey 2005-06, AIHW Dental Statistics & Research Unit, Research Report 53, July 2011.
[iii] AIHW, 2008, Australian hospital statistics 2006-07, Health services no. 31. Cat. no HSE 55. Canberra, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
[iv] Armfield JM. et al. Dental statistics and research series, no. 52. Cat. No. DEN 199. Canberra: AIHW; 2009
[v] Schechter N. 2000. The impact of acute and chronic dental pain on child development. Journal of the Southeastern Society of Pediatric Dentistry 6(2):16.
[vi] Guarnizo-Herreno C., & Wehby, G. (2012). Children’s dental health, school performance, and psychosocial well-being. The journal of Pediatrics, 161, 1153-1159
[vii] U.S. General Accounting Office. 2000. Oral Health: Dental Disease Is a Chronic Problem Among Low Income and Vulnerable Populations. Washington, DC: General Accounting Office. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/he00072.pdf
[viii] North, S., et al. (2007). The effects of a long wait for children’s dental general anaestethia. International Journal Paediatric Dentistry, 17, 105-109
[ix] US Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Oral Health in America. Available from http://silk.nih.gov/public/hck1ocv.@www.surgeon.fullrpt.pdf
[x] Patel, R., & Inglehart, M. (2007). Does oral health affect self perceptions, parental ratings and video-based assessments of children’s smiles. Community Dent Oral Peidemiol 35, 44-52.