Almost one in five (18 per cent) Australians aged 15 and over who needed to see a dental professional had delayed seeing or had not seen a dentist due to cost. The figures increase to over one quarter (27 per cent) of Australians in the age group of 25 to 34 years, according to new figures released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
ABS Director of Health Statistics, Ms Louise Gates, said “This survey collected information on access and barriers to a range of health care services including general practitioners (GP), dental professionals and medical specialists”.
Just under half (49 per cent) of all Australians aged 15 and over had visited a dental professional in the last 12 months. Of these people, just over half (57 per cent) had been two or more times.
“People living in areas of greatest socio-economic disadvantage were twice as likely to delay going or not go to a dental professional due to cost, compared with people living in areas of least socio-economic disadvantage (24 per cent compared with 12 per cent),
“People living in outer regional, remote or very remote areas of Australia were also more likely to delay going or not go to a dental professional due to cost (21 per cent) compared with those living in major cities of Australia (17 per cent), ” said Ms Gates.
The Australian Dental Association (ADA) says these figures indicate that despite increased investment by the Federal Government in ensuring dental care is being delivered, public sector waiting lists remain inadequately serviced.
Dr Karin Alexander, President of the Australian Dental Association (ADA) noted, “The ABS statistics come as no surprise to the Association. The recent federal investment to treat adult public sector waiting lists is having a positive impact in increasing the service delivery to these groups. We feel the current Federal government’s undertaking to retain this commitment is exemplary. Sadly, we know that in some jurisdictions this level of increased investment is not being matched by some state and territory governments. For example, in some jurisdictions the public sector facilities available will, at their current levels, only permit eligible patients to be seen once every 4-5 years. Far greater investment is required-either through increased services being provided through the private sector dental workforce or greater investment in personnel in the public sector clinics.”
Investment by governments is not the only approach to be taken to address these concerns, Dr Alexander observed.
“Many Australians do not give their dental health the financial priority it deserves. What needs to happen is the creation of an increased awareness by Australians of the importance of good oral health. The ADA would be happy to work with all levels of Government to help inform Australians as to how good dental hygiene will help both their dental and general health. Responsibility for good health does not rest solely with governments but has to be a personal responsibility. Australians need to be made aware of the fact that good oral health practice will improve their general health and enjoyment of life. If we can get only half of the group that struggle to get obtain care to increase their own investment in their health then many of the significant dental issues that arise will be avoided.”
The ADA says it remains committed to support all levels of government to develop and deliver dental care through schemes that target disadvantaged groups and it encourages governments to focus on these groups.
Further information can be found in Patient Experiences in Australia: Summary of Findings, 2012-13 (cat. no. 4839.0) available for free download from the ABS website.