Perceptions of oral health: the South African Demographic and Health Survey of 1998.
Oral diseases are widespread in South Africa and affect large numbers of people in terms of pain, tooth loss, disfigurement, loss of function and even death. The majority of South Africans have no access to private services and are dependent on the government for oral health care services, but less than 10% of the population utilises public oral health services. This underutilisation is due to limited resources and inaccessibility. This article reports on the data collected on adults, 15 years and older, from the South African Demographic and Health Survey carried out in 1998, relating to perceptions of oral health. The questions dealt with oral health problems, utilisation of oral health services, loss of natural teeth, oral health practices and knowledge of water fluoridation. The results are discussed in terms of age, gender, education, place of residence, province and classification according to the previous population registration act. A high proportion (36%) of people had experienced oral health problems. Teeth problems were most commonly reported in the higher age groups, non-urban areas, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Free State, people with little education and those classified as non-urban Africans. Significant differences were found in regard to periodontal disease, tooth loss, knowledge of fluoride between groups according to age, geographic location, race and level of education. 62% of the respondents reported that they had lost some of their natural teeth and in some communities almost a third of the respondents were edentulous. In comparing the goals of the current draft national oral health policy with the findings of this survey the following implications for policy development should be noted: A higher priority needs to be given to oral health issues; Improve access by increasing primary health care facilities through the delivery of oral health care services; The high prevalence of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS infection poses a higher risk to oral health personnel and the public and The successful implementation of water fluoridation depends upon public knowledge, understanding and support.