/What are the major parties planning to do for dental health?

What are the major parties planning to do for dental health?

Updated

May 11, 2019 17:37:30

Callie Westbrook spent nearly six years on the public dental waiting list in physical and emotional pain.

Key points:

  • An estimated 2 million Australians are not getting dental care because they can’t afford it
  • An increasing number of people are being hospitalised with serious problems linked to poor dental health
  • Both major parties have promised extra funding, but there are calls for a more holistic approach to dental care

“I was walking around for nearly three weeks with a pack pressed to my face,” said the mother of three from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

“I didn’t want to smile. I didn’t want to socialise. It [the decay] made me look like I had a drug addiction.”

According to the Grattan Institute think tank, Ms Westbrook is not alone.

“Two million Australians miss out on dental care every year because of cost,” said the institute’s health program director, Stephen Duckett.

Australians spend $10 billion a year on dental care, but very little of it is covered by Medicare or other sources.

A Grattan Institute report said 58 per cent of all dental work was paid for directly and in full by individuals.

That’s compared to just 11 per cent for other primary healthcare services.

“More people miss out on dental care than any other healthcare,” Mr Duckett said.

Children suffering increased rates of tooth decay

A number of readers have written in to the ABC’s You Ask, We Answer project, seeking information about dental care policy.

Health professionals say the costs and lack of government support is allowing rot to spread.

The Australian Dental Association’s (ADA) Victorian branch president, Matthew Hopcraft, said an increasing number of children were also having problems.

“We are seeing kids by the age of 5 or 6, one in three with tooth decay,” he said.

Melbourne dentist Rachel Martin said issues like minor decay became more serious as patients waited for care.

As well as medical issues, there were also social ramifications.

“We have patients who come to us and say, I just need to get a job but I can’t go out there because I have missing teeth, no-one will employ me,” she said.

According to the ADA, in 2016–2017 more than 70,000 people went to hospital because of dental problems that would have been preventable with good care.

Both parties pledge additional money for dental

The Coalition has promised $1 billion over three years to fund the Child Dental Benefit Schedule, which would allow families to claim up to $1,000 in benefits.

It has also pledged $100 million for public dental care for an extra 180,000 services, and $350 million for state and territory initiatives.

Labor has promised to match all of these commitments if elected.

It has also promised $2.4 billion for a pensioner dental plan that would allow people to access $1,000 worth of dental work every two years.

Dentists have applauded the announcements, but they want a more holistic approach.

The Grattan Institute is pushing for a universal dental care system.

“It is crazy that the mouth is not part of the body where Medicare is concerned,” Mr Duckett said.

The institute said a Medicare-style scheme would cost an extra $5.6 billion a year.

It proposes funding it in part by a rise in the Medicare levy, and phasing it in over a decade.

For Ms Westbrook, the answer to this national problem is simple.

“More clinics available, more dentists available, more appointments available and most definitely more incentive for dentists to stay in the public sector,” she said.

“And some pick-up through Medicare.”

Fortunately, her dental agony is finally over — but relief did not come via the public dental service.

A private dentist saw her story and decided to help her, pro bono.

She said it had changed her life.

“I can smile. I can smile at my kids,” she said.

“When my youngest son saw me finally for the first time, he cried.

“He said, ‘Oh my god Mummy, you are so beautiful’.”

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Topics:

dental,

federal-election,

federal-elections,

government-and-politics,

children,

older-people,

family,

liberals,

alp,

melbourne-3000,

australia,

vic

First posted

May 11, 2019 16:56:03