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ADA NSW Board member Dr Chris Wilson has spoken to The Newcastle Herald to spotlight inadequacies in public dentistry

9 October 2020
The Newcastle Herald  
 Helen Gregory

More than 13,600 people in the Hunter New England local health district are on the waiting list for public dental treatment, a number that rose by around 800 in the six months to June and dentists say illustrates the under-funding of the sector.

Raymond Terrace dentist and Australian Dental Association NSW board member Dr Chris Wilson said while all public dental sectors in all health districts saw their waiting lists grow during the pandemic, the numbers were still of concern.

"Public sector dental care has been a bit of a bridesmaid with regards to funding and manpower compared to lots of other parts of our health sectors," Dr Wilson said. "I think it has been underfunded, almost critically underfunded, for nearly as long as I've been a dentist. They've always had to work with limited resources and limited funding."

Dr Wilson said dentistry tended to be looked at separately from mainstream health. "They tend to think of it not being a very big vote catcher or a big influence on electors," he said. "If you have poor oral health it will not help many of your general health conditions too."

Dr Wilson said the government tended to use waiting lists as a way of "keeping the costs down", because some patients turned to the private sector if they couldn't be seen in reasonable time. "The provision of the service has been inadequate for the number of people that they're asked to deal with under the eligibility requirements."

But many stayed on the list and saw their conditions worsen to the point where they needed to be admitted to hospital. The ADA NSW said data from 2017-2018 showed there were 577 potentially preventable hospitalisations for dental conditions in Newcastle and 1600 in the Hunter.

"To get to that point they've suffered some pretty dramatic events." Dr Wilson said oral diseases were largely preventable, depending on diet and brushing and flossing habits.

"I think most of us who are reasonably well-educated think that's just intuitive, but I do think there's a sector of our society where that's not very well understood, or not very front of mind, they do think that because their parents and the people around them have got bad teeth that's just the way life is, they tend not to realise that they can alter that or that they can control that to a degree."

He said more education and focus on prevention would reduce the need for intervention. The Child Dental Benefits Schedule, he said, aimed to help families make positive changes early. He said the government may also consider a sugar tax to help pay for treatment. Dr Wilson people who do have sugar should limit consumption to meals instead of grazing. "Frequency is a big issue when it comes to decay caused by high sugar intakes."

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