Dentists call for regional oral health overhaul

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With thousands of remote NSW patients facing unacceptably long waits for public dental treatment and having teeth unnecessarily removed due to being unable to access a local dentist, the Australian Dental Association New South Wales (ADA NSW) is calling for a transformation of oral health care services in remote and rural areas. 

Providing more treatment options among eligible regional patients and greater incentives for dental practitioners to work in rural areas are among the recommendations ADA NSW president Dr Michael Jonas will outline at the Health Outcomes and Access to Health Services in Rural, Regional and Remote NSW inquiry on Friday, 3 December. 

“There’s currently about 30,000 adult regional NSW adult patients alone on the public dental waiting list, with many waiting several months for treatment,” Dr Jonas, a regional NSW dentist, said. 

“Regional and rural NSW patients are more likely to be hospitalised for dental-related conditions, while regional patients visit the dentist less and children in regional areas have higher rates of tooth decay. 

“Australians have the right to accessible and affordable oral health care, wherever they live, but this is especially vital in regional areas. ADA NSW’s submission to the Inquiry contains several recommendations which must be adopted to ensure improved oral health care outcomes for rural patients.” 

The submission calls for provision of private health fund benefits for teledentistry to help patients pay for consultations with oral health specialists. Other recommendations include a targeted placement of students from Indigenous and regional backgrounds into dental and oral health training programs in NSW and increased incentives such as living expense allowances and tuition fees for dental and oral health students or when new graduates choose to work in a rural location. 

It also recommends a redesign for the current Oral Health Fee for Service Scheme (OHFFSS), which would allow regional patients to access private dental practitioners in a public/private partnership model. 

“Tooth decay is the most common prevalent health problem in Australia and there are about 70,000 potentially preventable hospitalisations for dental conditions every year nationally,” Dr Jonas said. 

“Poor oral health can also contribute to other potentially life-threatening and chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

“These recommendations would require a substantial commitment and a coordinated approach involving government and non-government healthcare organisations and educational institutions. ADA NSW therefore calls on an increase in Commonwealth Government oral health funding for rural communities and a collaborative partnership with the NSW Government to develop a public/private oral health service model to reduce oral disparities for rural patients.” 

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