Oral health of children

This section provides the latest information about oral health of children living in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Two measures of children's oral health are:

  • percentage of children who are caries-free
  • the lifetime experience of dental decay - measured as the number of decayed, missing or filled teeth, in primary teeth (dmft) or permanent teeth (DMFT).

Factsheets and Metadata

Factsheet: Oral health of children (September 2021) Download report PDF
Metadata: Oral health of children Download report PDF

About oral health in children

Good oral health in children has major benefits as it prevents pain, infection and oral diseases such as dental caries (tooth decay). Children are at risk of dental caries as soon as their primary teeth ('baby teeth') begin to break through the gum at about the age of six months (Ministry of Health 2010). Tooth decay is the most common disease and is also one of the leading reasons for preventable hospital stays among children in New Zealand (Ministry of Health 2015).

The oral health of older children continues to improve

Between the start of the millennium and 2019, the oral health of five-year-old children and children in school-year eight improved. The improvements among older children were more substantial in both cases.

Figure 1: Percent of children who were caries-free, by age group, 2000-2019 (%)


Among five-year-old children, the mean dmft (decayed missing and filled primary teeth) was 1.9 in 2019 (Figure 2). The mean dmft increased between 2000 and 2007 but was essentially unchanged through the 2010s.

This period coincides with a decline in the number of children seen by the Community Oral Health Service. As neither caries-free rates nor mean dfmt among five-year-olds changed much during the 2010s despite this, it appears that these fewer children may be carrying a higher burden of disease.

Figure 2: Mean dmft (five-year-old children) and DMFT (children in school-year eight), 2000–2019


Data for this indicator

This factsheet presents information on data collected for five-year-old children and children in school-year eight examined by community oral health services.

Data includes:

  • The mean number of decayed, missing and filled primary teeth (dmft) for five-year-old children and the mean number of decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth (DMFT) for children in school-year eight.
  • The percentage of caries-free children. That is, those who have no past or current experience of dental decay.

The total number of five-year-old children seen by oral health services declined by 19.2% (around 9,500 children) between 2000-2019, while the number of children in school-year eight seen rose by around 3,500. Each group was initially of roughly equal size at 49,000 and 47,000 children (respectively) in the year 2000. It is possible that the reduction in the number of five-year-olds could affect the apparent trends in their oral health over time.


For more data, visit the Ministry of Health 's oral health data and stats webpage



  1. Ministry of Health. 2010. Our Oral Health: Key findings of the 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

  2. Ministry of Health. 2015. Annual Update of Key Results 2014/2015: New Zealand Health Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

  3. Ministry of Health. (2019). Oral health data and stats 2018. URL: http://www.health.govt.nz/nz-health-statistics/health-statistics-and-data-sets/oral-health-data-and-stats/age-5-and-year-8-oral-health-data-community-oral-health-service (accessed February 2020).
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