Early childhood caries is the most common chronic childhood disease worldwide. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are twice more likely to develop dental decay, and contributing factors include poor maternal oral health and underutilisation of dental services. Globally, Indigenous health workers are in a unique position to deliver culturally competent oral healthcare because they have a contextual understanding of the needs of the community.
This scoping review aimed to identify the role of Indigenous health workers in promoting maternal oral health globally. A systematic search was undertaken of six electronic databases for relevant published literature and grey literature, and expanded to include non-dental health professionals and other Indigenous populations across the lifespan when limited studies were identified.
Twenty-two papers met the inclusion criteria, focussing on the role of Indigenous health workers in maternal oral healthcare, types of oral health training programs and screening tools to evaluate program effectiveness. There was a paucity of peer-reviewed evidence on the role of Indigenous health workers in promoting maternal oral health, with most studies focusing on other non-dental health professionals. Nevertheless, there were reports of Indigenous health workers supporting oral health in early childhood. Although some oral health screening tools and training programs were identified for non-dental health professionals during the antenatal period, no specific screening tool has been developed for use by Indigenous health workers.
While the role of health workers from Indigenous communities in promoting maternal oral health is yet to be clearly defined, they have the potential to play a crucial role in ‘driving’ screening and education of maternal oral health especially when there is adequate organisational support, warranting further research.