Health experts are calling on the Federal Government to give more attention to Australians oral health by expanding Medicare-funded dental care.
In Australia, 90 per cent of adults and 40% of children have experienced tooth decay. Because of the cost of dental care, more than two million Australians delay or avoid the dentist each year, and hundreds of thousands remain on public waiting lists for well over a year.
At present, about a third of the population is eligible for public dental services, but according to estimates, only about 20% of those people are getting oral healthcare.
A new report from the Grattan Institute, calling for universal dental coverage, follows a $5.8 billion election policy announcement by Greens leader Dr Richard Di Natale. The Greens promise to provide Medicare-funded dental care for every child, aged pensioner, full-benefit recipient and concession card holder.
According to the report, because people have to fund their own dental care, about 60% of people on low incomes have not seen a dentist in the past year. Of those who did, about a fifth could not go ahead with treatment because that involved further cost.
The eligibility and organisation of public dental programs varies greatly across states and territories. For this reason, the report’s author Stephen Duckett says the federal government should take responsibility for funding primary dental care, starting with support for pensioners and healthcare card holders, before building a universal scheme.
Calls for greater attention to oral health have also come from the Australian Dental Association and the Consumers Health Forum of Australia.