Evaluation of Oral Health Literacy and Comprehension in Rural Year 8 High School Students

Mr Ethan Zappala1

1James Cook University, Cairns , Australia


This research aims to explore the oral health literacy of rural-dwelling adolescents in North Queensland. Health education interventions carried out during early adolescence have been shown to have long lasting effects on the development of good oral health behaviours into adulthood; oral health is fundamental to overall systemic health. However, to date, most studies surrounding these topics haven’t included adolescents. Furthermore, the literature surrounding rural Australian adolescents is scarce and this gap is addressed in this study.


Participants were found to have varying knowledge surrounding oral hygiene and prevention of oral disease. Results demonstrated participants having knowledge on how and how often to carry out oral hygiene, however not understanding the reasoning to do so. Survey results suggest that 13% of participants reported of the dentist making them nervous. The focus group data however indicated that all participants were nervous depending on the dental procedure. The participants reported of having above average dental attendance, 93% attending the dentist in the past 12 months. Data indicated the most common reason for dental appointments was for a dental check up and restorative work. Toothache was also reported consistently amongst focus groups as a reason to visit the dentist. Evidence suggested the participants’ oral health knowledge was reasonable, however, their oral health behaviour required improvement.


The evaluation suggested main points delivered during the oral health promotion were received well. This indicates that teens have the ability to obtain and learn basic health information. It is hard to determine whether this will parallel to the appropriate health care decisions. As oral health literacy involves both the ability to obtain information and apply it, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the adolescents’ oral health literacy levels. Whether these positive oral health behaviours will be adopted is a significant opportunity for further research.




Ethan Zappala is a James Cook University Dental student enrolled in his fifth and final year of study. He is currently undertaking placement in the public sector in rural North Queensland. Growing up in a country town within North Queensland, Ethan developed a passion for a career as a health professional. With his rural upbringing, he has a particular interest in rural and remote health.