Oral health in young Australian Aboriginal children: Qualitative research on parents’ perspectives
JDR Clinical & Translational Research
Despite dedicated government funding, Aboriginal Australians, including children, experience more dental disease than other Australians, despite it being seen as mostly preventable. The ongoing legacy of colonization and discrimination against Aboriginal Australians persists, even in health services. Current neoliberal discourse often holds individuals responsible for the state of their health, rather than the structural factors beyond individual control. While presenting a balanced view of Aboriginal health is important and attests to Indigenous peoples’ resilience when faced with persistent adversity, calling to account those structural factors affecting the ability of Aboriginal people to make favorable oral health choices is also important. A decolonizing approach informed by Indigenous methodologies and whiteness studies guides this article to explore the perceptions and experiences of Aboriginal parents (N = 52) of young children, mainly mothers, in Perth, Western Australia, as they relate to the oral health. Two researchers, 1 Aboriginal and 1 non-Aboriginal, conducted 9 focus group discussions with 51 Aboriginal participants, as well as 1 interview with the remaining individual, and independently analyzed responses to identify themes underpinning barriers and enablers to oral health. These were compared, discussed, and revised under key themes and interpreted for meanings attributed to participants’ perspectives. Findings indicated that oral health is important yet often compromised by structural factors, including policy and organizational practices that adversely preclude participants from making optimal oral health choices: limited education about prevention, prohibitive cost of services, intensive marketing of sugary products, and discrimination from health providers resulting in reluctance to attend services. Current government intentions center on Aboriginal–non-Aboriginal partnerships, access to flexible services, and health care that is free of racism and proactively seeks and welcomes Aboriginal people. The challenge is whether these good intentions are matched by policies and practices that translate into sustained improvements to oral health for Aboriginal Australians.