Federal election campaign: The dental profession says “enough is enough”

8 May 2019

Australian dentists have called on all political parties to slash the inequality in the country’s dental system by making access to dental care around the nation a right, and not a privilege. 

With Federal election day less than two weeks away, the ADA is using the campaigning period to highlight the pressing need for all major parties to make drastic changes to an unequal system that deprives many Australians of the access to regular dental care. 

The need is especially pressing with latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealing the following concerning statistics: 

* the number of potentially preventable hospitalisations related to dental conditions in 2016-17 was over 70,000, 

* 42% of children aged between five and 10 experience decay in their baby teeth, and 

* people over 15 typically have around 12.8 decayed, missing or filled teeth. 

“These statistics are a wakeup call to parties of all persuasions,” said ADA Federal President Dr Carmelo Bonanno. 

“The nation is divided into the haves with the good teeth and the have-nots with the poor teeth. This is a first world country, and this should not be happening,” he said. 

The ADA’s campaign is tackling four major issues affecting the delivery of dental services nationally. 

(1) The lack of an appropriate level of funding to meet the oral health needs of people on low incomes or who are socially disadvantaged, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those in regional and remote areas and people with specialised health needs. 

(2) The need for a Commonwealth dental benefits scheme for older Australians similar to the CDBS with many older people experiencing complex oral health issues andf facing long waiting lists for anything but emergency dental treatment through the public system. 

These waiting lists have been improved to a certain extent through National Partnership Agreements (NPAs), which have allowed the States to buy dental services from clinicians in the private sector with excess capacity. 

(3) Future-proofing of the NPAs a long-term commitment to earmark sufficient funds to reduce public waiting lists. 

(4) The prohibition of differential rebates for the same treatments. Patients who see their own preferred dentist rather than one deemed a ‘preferred provider’ by their insurer, can often be out of pocket by hundreds of dollars. 

The election announcement by the Labor Party last week to provide $2.4bn in funding for low income older Australian goes some way to addressing the inequities, although there remains the need for more fine-tuning of this policy. 

“We believe that if a future government seriously considers and introduces these targeted, sustainable and cost-effective measures, it will go a long way to addressing the huge gaps in access and need for millions of Australians every year,” said Dr Bonanno.