Uptake of Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme critical for senior population

27 October 2020

If we’re to turn the tide on poor oral health in aged care, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into Aged Care’s proposal to introduce a Senior Dental Benefits Scheme must be given serious consideration by the Commissioners, says the Australian Dental Association (ADA). 

The ADA is pleased the Royal Commission has agreed with its proposed alternative to funding oral care for certain seniors, but knows the recommendations now need to be followed through with some urgency.

“Creating such a scheme is critical to building better oral health among people in aged care,” said Dr Carmelo Bonanno, ADA Federal President. 

“Without the funding mechanism to ensure that private dental practitioners can provide screening and treatment, the oral health of our most vulnerable population will continue to be neglected.”

In its submissions to the Royal Commission, the ADA outlined the need for a Senior Dental Benfits Scheme and its benefits relative to other models.

Under the ADA proposed scheme, Pensioner Concession Card holders aged over 65 and Commonwealth Seniors Card holders would receive an individual entitlement to subsidised public or private dental treatment up to a cap, for every two-year period. 

The entitlement could be used by patients to fund dental examinations before or on entry to aged care and regularly from then on, as well as oral health care planning once they access aged care, and any necessary treatment. 

Importantly, it would mean that older people would no longer need to languish on public dental waiting lists and would have the choice of continuing to see their regular dentist. 

In addition, by improving access to affordable and timely dental treatment for those aged 65 and above, the scheme would ensure that they do so with a better foundation of oral health.

Such a scheme also has the support of many aged care advocacy groups.

Dentists are familiar and accepting of such schemes as demonstrated by the uptake of the Child Dental Benefits Scheme and the longstanding provision of services to veterans through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs dental scheme. 

Having a national scheme based on consistent eligibility criteria and treatment rules which can  fund dental care for a high proportion of their residents/clients, will be equally important to aged care providers trying to navigate an already complex funding system. 

“There are many benefits to a national scheme for residents, aged care providers and  governments,” added Dr Bonanno. “Ongoing assessments and access to oral health treatment will be improved for residents which will benefit their general health and nutritional status, while aged care providers, carers and families will have access to a range of available practitioners to provide these services.
“The ADA calls on the Commissioners to recognise the importance of this building block by including this recommendation in their final report.”