Oral health in Indigenous adults: Perceptions and beliefs about oral health and dental care

Current models of care are not reducing oral health disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Poor oral health in Aboriginal Australians remains a significant concern. Evidence suggests that, despite dental caries being largely (theoretically) preventable, Australian Aboriginal people have worse periodontal disease, more decayed teeth and untreated dental caries than non-Aboriginal Australians. Current health care delivery systems need reviewing for their effectiveness in providing services that are culturally appropriate and understand the issues that many Aboriginal people face including marginalisation, racism and socio-economic disadvantage. Knowledge of Aboriginal perspectives of oral health and dental services is integral to developing responsive and appropriate oral health services that focus on upstream approaches such as preventing disease as well as providing tertiary dental care.

The original concept of this project was suggested by a Noongar elder and developed over time through conversations with Community, Aboriginal health colleagues with leadership roles and with an Aboriginal co-investigator. Exploring perceptions is critical as they form the basis of health behaviour. There are a number of theories in relation to epidemiology, health promotion and behaviour change that investigate stages of change in terms of healthy behaviours and the impact of influences over a lifetime. Designed to respond to a pressing need to generate new knowledge and identify practical solutions to improve the provision of adequate primary oral health care to Aboriginal people, it was anticipated that project findings would provide evidence of how Aboriginal people perceive oral health and dental services, including barriers and enabling factors that can inform policy and practice development and future research projects.

Aboriginal Australians living in rural and remote Australia face similar disparities in oral health which are multifactorial and multigenerational stemming from the legacy of colonisation and loss of culture and identity, but which are compounded by socioeconomic and geographical disadvantage. The maldistribution of the dental workforce and difficulties in retaining and attracting staff in remote areas makes providing dental services in this context an ongoing challenge. Using volunteers to extend dental care to the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia is a novel approach to address the issue. A secondary aim of this project was to understand the potential role volunteers may play in improving oral health outcomes for remote Australian Aboriginal communities. The study explored values and attitudes towards volunteering and the volunteers’ perceptions of oral health in remote Aboriginal communities.


  • Explore the issues, perceptions and attitudes regarding oral health among Aboriginal adults in the Perth metropolitan area.
  • Explore the barriers and enablers to support oral health for Aboriginal adults in the Perth metropolitan area.
  • Determine attitudes towards oral health among professionals who work with Aboriginal adults in the Perth metropolitan area.
  • Understand the potential role volunteers play in improving oral health outcomes for remote Australian Aboriginal communities.
  • Explore participants’ values and attitudes towards volunteering and their perceptions of barriers and enablers regarding oral health in rural and remote Aboriginal communities.


  • Linda Slack-Smith, School of Dentistry, University of Western Australia
  • Angela Durey, School of Dentistry, University of Western Australia
  • Clair Scrine, School of Dentistry, University of Western Australia