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Northern Star news article explaining how public dentistry must be made more accessible

24 September 2020
The Northern Star  

Decay and cavities are growing as the waiting list for public dental treatment on the Far North Coast has blown out by 1000 in the first half of the year. COVID-19 is generally proving to be a tricky time for people to access medical services and dental treatment seems no exception.

New data has shown almost 8,300 adult patients in the Northern NSW Local Health District are currently waiting for public dental treatment.

The latest Health NSW figures have revealed an increase of about 1,000 during the first half of 2020
In all more than 100,000 adult patients in NSW are now on the state's public dental waiting list, which the Australian Dental Association NSW says must spur the Federal Government to provide more funding for Australia's oral health.

"About 20,000 adults, many of whom will be waiting several months for treatment and often in unnecessary pain, have been added to the NSW public dental waiting list since March 2019 alone," Australian Dental Association NSW President Dr Kathleen Matthews said. "The latest figures, which include a rise of about 7,000 patients in just six months this year, are a sad indictment on Australia's current dental health system.

"Tooth decay is among the most common chronic diseases in Australia and poor oral health can contribute to life-threatening conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Despite this, federal governments continue to woefully underfund Australia's oral health system.

"How many patients will have to wait for affordable public dental treatment before the Federal Government steps in and makes greater funding for oral health a priority?

"Funding for public dental services covers treatment for approximately 20% of those eligible for public dental care," Dr Matthews said.

"About 30 per cent of card holders have private dental insurance and receive adequate dental care from the private sector, leaving a remaining 50 per cent of those eligible without insurance and unable to access public dental care.

"ADA NSW has previously advocated several measures which would help improve dental care. This includes better promotion of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule to allow more children to access Medicare-funded dental treatment and a tax on sugary drinks, with monies raised funding an awareness campaign on the dangers of sugary drinks. ADA NSW has also recommended that options for new models of care be explored through public and private partnerships to provide affordable and timely oral care for Australians.

"With last year's Grattan Institute report showing that more than two million Australians don't go to the dentist every year due to the cost, these figures again illustrate the urgent need for greater investment in Australia's oral health."

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