Public dental care for adults needs a boost on World Oral Health Day

Friday, March 20, 2020

‘Today is World Oral Health Day—but the news is not good for Australian adults who cannot afford private care’, says Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association spokesperson Dr Chris Bourke.

Dr Bourke, who is Australia’s first Aboriginal dentist, said annual Commonwealth funding for public dental care had been progressively reduced from a promised $391 million to $155 million in 2016, down to $107 million over the last three years, with the Commonwealth’s National Partnership Agreement with the states and territories on adult public dental health set to expire in June 2020.

‘Now, disturbingly, the Australian Dental Association’s comprehensive Adult Oral Health Tracker is showing that in only two years, the number of adults with untreated and potentially painful tooth decay has risen from 25.5% to 32.1%.

‘Rather than following the pattern of yet more cuts to public dental services, we need a serious ramp-up in funding when 1 in 3 adults has untreated tooth decay, and 1 in 4 has serious gum disease.

‘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.

‘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, on World Oral Health Day, the statistics show that adult oral health is getting worse.

‘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.

‘Access to dental practitioners is a huge barrier to dental care, particularly in rural and remote Australia.

‘Oral 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