Filling the gap in oral health care

Dental disease is one of society’s most common chronic diseases and impacts the wellbeing of many Australians. One in seven Australians experience toothache, more than half of our children experience dental decay, resulting in many avoidable hospitalisations and Indigenous Australians suffer from more caries and tooth loss than our non-Indigenous population.

A recent gift to the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Dentistry and Charles Perkins Centre will allow the University to push the boundaries of our understanding of dental and systemic health and find new ways to prevent chronic disease. The generous gift worth $3.6 million, from an alumnus of the Faculty of Dentistry, will establish the Chair of Lifespan Oral Health which will improve oral health and related health outcomes through multidisciplinary research and education.

Building on the University’s research strengths, the new chair will facilitate research collaborations between laboratory, clinical and social scientists and disseminate findings to effectively improve health care outcomes. Sited at Westmead Centre for Oral Health, the chair will work across the adult, children’s and private hospitals, research institutes and health facilities across NSW and beyond. The chair will link with dental researchers investigating oral-systemic interactions including those with arthritis, cardiovascular disease and psychological wellbeing. Ultimately, research conducted by the chair will change the place of dentistry in health care and investigate the dental origins of chronic disease.

“This is very exciting for both the Faculty of Dentistry and Charles Perkins Centre,” says Professor Chris Peck, Dean, Faculty of Dentistry. “The Chair of Lifespan Oral Health will revolutionise our understanding of dentistry and our ability to prevent diseases.”

The chair will lead the Charles Perkins Centre dental node, with a bold vision to stop the onset of chronic disease using new methods of preventative disease management, and focus on preventing a disease before its impact takes full effect.

“Traditionally, health care focuses on managing the treatment of established diseases with little emphasis on prevention, but the chair will turn this around.

“Through our understanding of the profound influence of oral health on chronic disease, it is evident dental interventions must be part of a disease prevention strategy. Far greater community health gains and cost saving will also be achieved by concentrating on prevention,” says Professor Peck.

By understanding how to stop chronic disease at the point of inception researchers will have the means to transform the health trajectories of entire generations of Australians – a disease prevention strategy will provide benefits to individuals, the community and government through improved health, reduced costs and evidence-based health policy development.

The impact will extend further than Australia. The knowledge will be filtered through the Faculty of Dentistry’s international outreach activities and, more broadly, through the publication of research in scientific journals and presentations at international conferences – promoting the adoption of new practices on a global scale.

In addition, the chair’s research will be incorporated into the Faculty of Dentistry’s curricula and new clinical treatment guidelines for future dental professionals and professional development of current practitioners.

The appointment of the new chair will be announced next year.

Find out how you can support the Faculty of Dentistry and Charles Perkins Centre in transforming the lives of Australians. With every gift to the University of Sydney, donors become part of the INSPIRED Campaign, which aims to raise $600 million by 2017.