A report by the University of Tasmania has uncovered the difficulties rural general practitioners (GPs) are facing when asked to cover dental health services.
In many remote and rural areas of Australia, GPs are often the only available option for those with dental ailments. The study found the surveyed GPs from South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania felt they were unequipped to provide the necessary oral care and advice needed by their patients.
Though GPs may feel their skills are lacking, they may have to continue to treat patients due to the restricted number of dental healthcare options available rurally, Dr Ha Haong—one of the study’s researchers—told the ABC.
“Visiting oral health services were very limited, ranging from no visiting dental services at all to once a month, and the distances from the communities to their nearest dental service ranged from 40 kilometres to 200 kilometres,” said Hoang.
“Each month, the GPs saw an average of 12 patients with oral health problems, including toothaches, dentures and trauma.
“From our findings, some GPs acknowledge they weren’t confident when dealing with oral health problems, because they lack training in this area.”
Dr Rick Olive, president of the Australian Dental Association (ADA), said the study had shown the difficulties in providing both dental care and education on oral health to rural communities.
“This study confirms the multiple layers of challenges facing oral health delivery in rural and remote communities in Australia,” he said.
“A higher proportion of patients from these communities place a low priority on oral health. There needs to be broader commitment to strengthen community and patients’ awareness of the importance of good oral health.
“While medical practitioners in these communities are called on to address the immediate acute dental pain of their patients (through provision of painkillers and/or antibiotics for instance), they appeared to be unware of the closest available dental services, visiting dentists and mobile services to refer their patients to [in order to] address the broader ongoing dental health issues they had.”
Dr Olive also called on the government to support the ADA’s attempts to improve service provision for both patients and doctors in affected areas.
“While the ADA is doing its part—by conducting regular oral health campaigns throughout the year, and partnering with groups such as the National Rural Health Alliance, with advocacy efforts resulting in the creation of the Australian government’s Dental Relocation and Infrastructure Support Scheme to encourage dentists to move to rural, remote and very remote communities— ultimately, we need to ensure a broad range of service delivery models are made available.
“Last but not least, governments at all levels can push for the most cost-effective and efficient way to provide a solid oral health foundation for rural and remote Australians: fluoridation of reticulated water supplies”.