The painful consequences of no universal dental care
EXISTING Australian public dental schemes are inadequate, uncoordinated, and inequitable. Unlike what happens when you visit your GP, Medicare does not pick up any of the bill for a trip to the dentist, leaving Australians largely out of pocket.
Due to the absence of universal dental care in Australia, approximately two million people are delaying, or avoiding trips to the dentist. The consequences are widespread poor oral health. A third of low income earners claim they avoid certain foods because of the poor condition their teeth are in. Low income earners are more likely to have untreated tooth decay or missing teeth.
The issue becomes even more concerning when evidence suggests that oral health conditions can contribute to other health issues such as diabetes and heart disease.
So why is oral care treated differently from any other form of healthcare? A Grattan Institute report found that there is no compelling medical, economic, or legal reason for the mistreatment of oral care. Yet Australians continue to endure endless waiting lists and detrimental consequences of poor oral health.
The answer to this inequitable system is universal dental care.
Universal dental care would require the Commonwealth to take responsibility for funding primary dental care just as it is responsible for other primary medical care. The scheme should require participating dental practices to charge fees according to an agreed schedule with no additional fees.
A universal dental scheme would mean all Australians could get the care they need, when they need it, without financial barriers.
The switch to a universal scheme will require large fiscal investment and significant expansion of the oral health workforce. The scheme cannot be rolled out over-night. However, the Commonwealth needs to outline a clear plan including costs and timing.
Australians cannot be kept on waiting lists forever. The time for universal dental care is now.
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