The nation’s dentists urge PM to include dentistry in aged care boost

17 December 2020

Without the inclusion of dental care in this week’s round of funding to the aged care sector,  the Australian Dental Association (ADA) says the care for the nation’s growing seniors population will be drastically incomplete.

Incoming ADA President Dr Mark Hutton says that while the Prime Minister’s $1 billion injection into the aged care system announced this week is welcome, without including access to dental care it’s not going to provide the necessary care to ensure senior’s oral health is addressed.

“While $850 million of this funding will fund 10,000 extra home care packages, these packages must include access to regular assessments and treatments to dental carewhile people are still living in their own home,” said Dr Hutton (pictured), a South Australian dentist.

“Otherwise the oral health of our most needy older population will continue to deteriorate – and often hasten their demise,” he warned.

The government was set to announce today (Thursday December 17) the final details of the extra places, as well as $63.3 million for allied health and mental health care for those in residential care.

“We know older Australians often have more complex dental needs, not least as more people are keeping their teeth longer, and these measures won’t go far enough if the packages don’t include oral health maintenance at its heart,” he said. 

“The longevity of older Australians is dependent on them having oral health checks and necessary work done regularly, whether at home or in a facility, so we want that assurance from the Government.

“Central to the ADA’s recommendations to the Aged Care Royal Commission, was that people with Level 3 or 4 home aged care packages have a referral pathway to a dentist or dental serivce and that it’s put on their records by their aged care provider.”

The oral health of many older Australians is not in good shape, not least due to affordability of dental services, according to the National Oral Health Survey (2017 to 2018), with:

- 28% of 55-74 year-olds surveyed and 26% of those aged 75 and over avoiding foods due to dental problems,

- 23% of people aged 55-74 and nearly 10% of those 75 and over reporting that dental costs had prevented recommended treatment, and 

- almost a quarter of people aged 55-74 and almost one in five people 75 and over saying they would have difficulty paying a $200 dental bill.

“This is why we’re consistently urging the government to implement a Seniors Dental Benefits Schedule along the lines of the current Child Dental Benefits Schedule, which is a key component of the ADA’s Australian Dental Health Plan, our funding solution to meeting the oral health needs of disadvantaged Australians,” Dr Hutton said.

This is a framework for Australian government funding of dental services for low-income adults and older Australians who, as well as affordability issues, also experience long waiting lists in the public dental system.

Central to the ADHP are three schemes targeting disadvantaged and low income groups – the Adult Dental Benefits Schedule, a Seniors Dental Benefits Schedule and a modification of the existing Child Dental Benefits Schedule for families with kids under 17.

The ADHP would be funded by a number of measures:

- phasing out the Private Health Insurance Rebate for general treatment policies. The total projected cost of the premium rebate for hospital and general treatment policies in 2019–20 is $6.3 billion, and a projected $800 million of this will subsidize benefits for dental costs paid out by health funds, 

- introducing a tax on sugary drinks,

- increasing the taxation of tobacco products, and 

- an increase of 0.5% to the Compulsory Medicare Levy. The current 2% levy raised $15.8 billion in 2017–18, so a 0.5% increase would initially raise an additional $3.9 billion per annum. 

He added: “We urge Scott Morrison to do the number crunching now - and realise that by resolving these issues for older Australians now, it will save the government money further down the track with less long-term burden on the public purse. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Access the ADA’s Australian Dental Health Plan.
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