Dental Care in Australia

I’m not qualified to give dental treatment or advice so it might seem odd that I’m writing a blog post about it.

However it is increasingly common for adults to make an appointment with me (a GP/Family doctor) with toothache or other tooth problems. Other GP colleagues have had similar experiences. There appears to be a number of reasons for this. Most importantly seems to be access and cost. GPs are often a lot easier to access than a dentist, a quick phone call or a few clicks on a health booking app and you have a GP appointment. Dentists can be harder to book with and there is a longer waiting time in many areas. There is also no bulk billing or medicare rebate in the way there is for General Practice or Specialist Health Services.

There are a number of misconceptions which come up regularly such as thinking that all toothaches need antibiotics or needing to see a GP first for antibiotics before seeing a dentist. These beliefs are not true and are difficult to correct.

There is clearly a problem if you have to go somewhere other than the correct place for your treatment. Last month there was a report by the Grattan Institute calling for universal dental care to solve the current absence of comprehensive affordable dental care:

This report calls for universal dental care to be introduced by the government to rectify what seems to be a longstanding oversight. Medicare which provides universal healthcare for Australian citizens and permanent residents was established in various steps (backwards and forwards in the 1970s and 1980s) but has never covered dental treatment. There are publicly funded dental services, usually in hospital, but there are very narrow eligibility criteria for them and even if you are eligible there is a long wait and anyone who has a dental problem knows that waiting isn’t tolerable.

Dental care hasn’t had much attention from the main two political parties but the Greens have given a good level of detail on their “denticare” policy. The Greens will not likely be in power but often smaller parties can have their policies adopted and adapted by the main parties or can influence policy if their ideas resonate with the public. To give fair attention to the other political parties I have checked the ALP (Australian Labour Party) website and they talk about reversing dental cuts but not about any new investment or transformation of services. The Liberal Party has a broader coverage of information on healthcare than the ALP but there is no mention of dental care at all. There is no mention of dental care on the National Party’s website either.

Public funds for dental care are inadequate and at present there is little sign of any change. There would be a real quality of life improvement for big parts of the population if dental care was brought closer into line with Medicare. It would also cost less than expected because some people who are developing health problems due to bad teeth would not need to access other healthcare funding.

If you feel strongly about the lack of funding for dental treatment or the lack of government attention on this important area you should contact your federal MP and raise your concerns. The time before an election is the time you will most likely get heard.

Declaration: I have no affiliation or membership with any political party.