A not-so-healthy approach to oral health

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Commonwealth investment in the Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme through a single national agreement with the states and territories is welcome, but claims regarding the scale of the funding are over-inflated, and unfortunately will not go far enough to ensure better access and greater affordability to dental  care.

Good oral health is important for our overall health and wellbeing, and all Australians should have access to affordable dental care. Affordability challenges mean many people miss out. Many of the people who will be eligible for the Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme are already eligible for public dental services but face long waits for care.

This funding stream from the Commonwealth may contribute to easing waiting times for some adults, but it will be dependent on the calculation methodology for the efficient price the Commonwealth has indicated it will pay, and the capacity of the states and territories to meet co-funding requirements. This creates a real risk of variation across Australia in the availability of care.

The loss of focus on early preventive care for children is also of significant concern. Adults with high immediate needs for dental treatment will be competing for public funded care with children requiring preventive care, as a result of the move away from the previous scheme which promoted better dental care in childhood. It is likely that many children who miss out on preventive care now will become adults with high needs in the future.

It will be important for the Commonwealth and state/territory administrative processes to align with service requirements and support access to care, particularly for vulnerable population groups and to ensure that children remain in scope for care.

The appointment of an Australian Chief Dental Officer to coordinate oral health policy, and implementation of the recently-agreed National Oral Health Plan would be a sensible next step for the Commonwealth: it is unfortunate that provision has not been made in the Budget for this.

Media enquiries:
Alison Verhoeven
Chief Executive, The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association
0403 282 501