The Public Dental Debacle

Article published 27 February 2018

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Dental Health

It is no secret that dental care is one of the greatest areas of health inequality within Australia. Public dental care is woefully underfunded and private dental is unaffordable for most people living on low fixed incomes.

Consequently, in NSW alone, over 73,000 adults are awaiting treatment on the public dental list and over 25,000 are waiting to be assessed. But the system is only funded to provide treatment to those on the top of the priority list. COAG Health Council estimated that dental health funding only allows for treatment of about 20 per cent of eligible patients, leaving 80 per cent without public treatment.

Some scrounge for money to seek care in the private sector, generally to get relief from pain and others are forced to wait while their condition worsens. In fact, untreated dental issues are one of the leading causes of potentially avoidable hospital admissions in NSW.

But doesn’t it cost governments more to provide expensive emergency dental treatment to those with serious long term issues than it would cost to provide treatment at the first sign of trouble? Yes it does, not to mention the impact on individuals who suffer immense pain and diminished quality of life while they wait.

This situation is compounded for older Australians living on low incomes experiencing age related deterioration of their dental health.

A recent survey found that 21 per cent of respondents over the age of 65 skipped dentist visits when they need to because of the cost.

So, while the conditions in the public dental system worsen, what could the NSW Government be doing?

Schemes like The Child Dental Benefits Schedule, which provides Medicare funded dental care to children, could be extended to people on low incomes with a Health Care Card or equivalent. Firstly, this would reduce pressure on the public dental waiting list. But it would also go some way to addressing the two tiered dental system in which pensioners and other low income Australians miss out on vital health care services.

CPSA would like to see the federal, state and territory governments make improving public dental care an election promise.

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