Don't keep dental health under the COVID doona

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

As COVID restrictions are lifted and dental health services resume, Australians have more opportunities to take care of their dental health—but affordability remains an issue for many’, says Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association spokesperson and Australia’s first Aboriginal dentist Dr Chris Bourke.

‘Affordability is absolutely critical given that many people are unemployed as a result of the COVID pandemic, cannot afford private care and are increasingly eligible for public dental care.

‘Unfortunately, public dental care waiting times are shocking and future funding is uncertain.

‘The Commonwealth’s National Partnership Agreement with the states and territories on adult public dental health is set to expire next month and there has been no word on renewal.

‘Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show public dental care median waiting times are in the order of 1–2 years and more across the states and territories 3–4 years ago, with all times trending upwards.

‘It cannot be pure coincidence that annual Commonwealth funding for public dental care progressively reduced from a promised $391 million each year to $155 million in 2016, down to $107 million each year over the last three years’, Dr Bourke said.

‘Disturbingly, data from the Adult Oral Health Tracker produced by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration and the Australian Dental Association indicate that in only two years the prevalence of adults with untreated and potentially painful tooth decay has risen from 1 in 4 to 1 in 3. And 1 in 4 adults have serious gum disease.

‘Rather than following the pattern of yet more cuts to public dental services, we obviously need a serious ramp-up in funding. Waiting lists to see a public dentist will grow by at least 180,000 people if the Commonwealth funding doesn’t continue.

‘This is 180,000 of our most vulnerable adults with more pain and difficulty chewing healthy foods, to add to the millions of Australians who need public dental care. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and adults who are socially disadvantaged or on low incomes have more than double the rate of poor oral health than their counterparts.

‘The Australian Government should immediately announce interim funding for the National Partnership Agreement on adult public dental care and start working with the states and territories for a long-term arrangement that guarantees public dental care for those who need it now’, Dr Bourke said.

‘Four years ago, we said that it was harsh and particularly heartless that the government had seen fit to compromise the dental health of those Australians least able to afford proper dental care.

‘Today the latest statistics show that adult oral health is getting worse—and it is a real problem that oral health conditions are the fourth highest reason for potentially preventable hospital admissions.

‘Oral health is fundamental to overall health, wellbeing and quality of life. A healthy mouth enables people to eat, speak and socialise without pain, discomfort or embarrassment.

‘It’s time for this government to have some funded empathy for those who need public dental care’, Dr Bourke said.

More information on AHHA is available at

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.


Media enquiries: Dr Chris Bourke, Strategic Programs Director, AHHA, 0418 869 443