The number of Indigenous people treated at public dental clinics is now six times more than it was seven years ago.
This number has been steadily increasing with approximately 10.3 per cent more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seen in 2014/2015 compared with the previous years.
This has meant that significant inroads have been made in closing the gap for decay rates in Aboriginal patients, in particular young children. These are higher than in non-Aboriginal clients, especially for those living in rural areas.
The catchments with highest rates of access by Aboriginal clients include the catchments serviced by Goulburn Valley Health closely followed by Echuca Regional Health.
Speaking during NAIDOC Week, Dental Health Services Victoria (DHSV) CEO Dr Deborah Cole said the increase in the number of Aboriginal individuals accessing care in the public oral health sector can be attributed to the implementation of a number of initiatives by community public dental health clinics and the Royal Melbourne Dental Hospital (RDHM) to improve access.
Overall, around one third of Indigenous Australians accessed public oral health services at a clinic that was not the nearest clinic. The most significant proportion of such clients was received by RDHM, where 97.5 per cent of Aboriginal people that accessed non-specialist care were from outside the hospital’s catchment area.
Possible reasons for attending RDHM could be the perception that treatment for emergency dental care requires attendance at a dental hospital, the availability of an Aboriginal Liaison Officer at RDHM and high availability of public transport to the central hub.
“DHSV is passionate about reducing the huge gaps that exist between the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the rest of the population,” said Dr Cole.
“We have lots more do in getting the access rates higher but I believe we are on the right track.”