Disadvantaged citizens missing out on critical dental care: report

16 June, 2014

Dentists have been rated as the health professional that patients are the most satisfied with when receiving treatment but an alarming number of disadvantaged citizens are delaying their visit to a dentist, according to the COAG Reform Council report on healthcare in Australia.

In a statement last week (13 June), the Australian Dental Association (ADA) said the report also confirms government funding for dental care should be targeted to Australia's most disadvantaged communities.

"Australians continue to rate dental professionals the highest on the categories of listening carefully, showing respect and spending  enough time with their patients. This confirms the quality of dental services provided by the profession," President of the ADA, Dr Karin Alexander, said.

What is of concern is the finding that nearly one in four of our most disadvantaged citizens delayed seeing a dentist due to their disadvantage, according to the ADA's statement.

The ADA has continually called on government to direct dental funding in a targeted manner to address the unmet needs of these Australians. The report's findings confirm this is where government should focus its effort.

While the report said that socio-economic differences did not influence the proportion of Australians who  could not see a GP due to cost access, this proportion tripled to 25.1 per cent when it came to Australians from disadvantaged areas who could not see a dental practitioner.

By using the funding available under the National Partnership Agreements, states and territories have recently been sending patients who are on public waiting lists to private dentists, using vouchers to cover  the cost of care.

Enabling private dentists to see these patients in a timely manner has reduced waiting  lists. There is more than enough capacity in the private sector, that has been experiencing a considerable glut of dentist oversupply, who are available to service this demand.

"The need to address the problem of Australians difficulties in accessing dental care was part of the first  recommendation outlined by the COAG Reform Council. We hope all governments give this issue the same priority," Dr Alexander said.