The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia experience inequality in health status across the lifespan compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts. Although there have been some improvements in health outcomes, the gap is still significant. An area where Indigenous people have poorer health outcomes in Australia is in maternal and infant health. Infants who are born to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers are more likely to be pre-term and of low birth weight compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts. Further, Indigenous children are twice as likely to develop early childhood caries in both deciduous and permanent teeth compared to other children. Early childhood caries is the most common chronic childhood disease worldwide and affects various aspects of the child’s functioning.
Although typically overlooked, a common risk factor in all these health outcomes is maternal oral health. Maternal dental decay can contribute to early childhood caries especially if mothers engage in certain feeding practices after birth like sharing the same spoon which can result in bacteria transmission to the child. In light of the importance of maternal oral health, it is now recommended that all pregnant women consult a dentist early during pregnancy and be provided oral health education, risk assessment and referral during antenatal care. However, Indigenous mothers are less likely to attend their first antenatal visit until later in the pregnancy and tend to underutilise preventive health services, such as dental services. Aboriginal Health Workers (AHWs) are in an excellent position to fill this gap as they currently play a key role in accessing and advocating for Indigenous Australians, and bridging the gap with the healthcare system. They are often responsible for leading culturally-appropriate health promotion and educational activities within primary health care. Although some studies have explored the potential for AHWs to disseminate oral health education, a recent scoping review (under review, led by the PhD candidate) showed that their role in promoting maternal oral health has received little attention.
The aim of this study is to develop a culturally-appropriate model of care focussed on capacity building of Aboriginal health workers to promote oral health among Indigenous pregnant women and their children. This research will occur in three phases:
Phase 1: Exploring perceptions of AHWs and Indigenous pregnant women towards oral health care
Phase 2: Developing the model of care for Indigenous pregnant women
Phase 3: Pilot testing the model of care with AHWs
• Ariana Villarosa – Western Sydney University, SWSLHD, Ingham Institute
• Assoc Prof. Ajesh George – Western Sydney University, SWSLHD, University of Sydney, Ingham Institute
• Dr Lucie Ramjan – Western Sydney University, Ingham Institute
• Dr Mariana S. Sousa – Western Sydney University, SWSLHD, Ingham Institute