Dental health needs check on Budget night

Friday, May 8, 2015

The ability of low income Australians to access basic dental care remains uncertain as Budget night approaches, with the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) recommending the Federal Government rethink its lack of commitment to dental health services.

AHHA Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven said it was disappointing that, since the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on Adult Public Dental Services was deferred to 1 July 2015 in last year’s Budget, there has been no indication it will commence as scheduled.

“Rather than confirm that the program will go ahead, the Health Minister has simply pointed to the inclusion of NPA funding in the forward estimates—but that is no guarantee,” Ms Verhoeven said.

While public dental services are provided to low income adults across Australia, predominantly holders of Healthcare Concession Cards and Pensioner Concession Cards, the 2004-06 National Survey of Adult Oral Health found that these cardholders had higher levels of tooth decay and gum disease and are less likely to access dental services.

In April 2015, similar findings were also highlighted in the Committee for Economic Development Australia’s report, Addressing entrenched disadvantage in Australia, which shone a light on the links between oral health and poverty. 

“This report notes that dental treatment when required and an annual dental check for children were considered to be two of 24 ‘Essentials of Life’ in the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre’s 2012 report Promoting Inclusion and Combating Deprivation,” Ms Verhoeven said.

“Both these dental measures were in the top 6 in terms of highest deprivation rates in the 2010 Poverty and Exclusion in Modern Australia survey, further demonstrating the challenge low income Australian families face when accessing oral health care.

“The UNSW report also highlighted the potential benefits of Commonwealth-supported dental programs, with deprivation rates falling between 2006 and 2010. This corresponds to the introduction of the Commonwealth Dental Health Program and Teen Dental programs. However, the rates for both measures still remained well above average.”

Ms Verhoeven also highlighted that information on the Department of Health’s own website shows that failure to proceed with the NPA will make it harder for up to 1.4 million low income adults to receive dental services.

“The oral health of low income Australians is unquestionably far worse than others and this impacts on many aspects of their lives and on their overall health,” Ms Verhoeven said. “Implementation of the new NPA to allow access to regular preventive care and treatment is critical to addressing this inequity.” 

Media enquiries:

Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, 0403 282 501