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Public dental waiting list rises to 100,000 due to COVID-19 delays

20 September 2020
The Sunday Telegraph
Reporter: Jane Hansen

The number of adult patients waiting for public dental treatment in NSW has now ballooned out to over 100,000, an increase of 20,000 on the same period last year.
 
Dr Kathleen Matthews from the Australian Dental Association (ADA) said COVID-19 put restrictions on dental services during the initial lockdown which saw the waitlist blow out by 7000 in the June quarter compared to the March quarter the latest figures show.
 
“We’ve unfortunately missed treatments so the waiting list has grown. The system isn’t working well for everyone and how do we help people who are on the waiting list after this break in service?” she said.
 
All children under 18 can go to a public dental clinic for treatment free of charge and all adults with a pension or health care card can seek treatment at a public sector clinic.
 
While the pandemic has seen a sharp rise, the waiting list for adults has grown by 30,000 in the past three years, a 42 per cent increase.
 
The ADA said patients will be waiting months or even years for affordable treatment, often suffering unnecessary pain and suffering as a result.
 
By local health district, central Sydney had the longest waitlist with 19360 followed by Hunter New England with 12,856 and South Western Sydney with 8520 waiting for treatment.
 
Of the total child waitlist of 3834, Western Sydney accounted for 2041 followed by Nepean Blue Mountains health district with 1291.
 
Tooth decay is among the most common chronic diseases in Australia and poor oral health has been linked with heart disease, yet timely treatment remains too expensive for many. Last year the Grattan Institute reported over 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,” Dr Matthews said.
 
Australian Institute of health and Welfare report released in July found in 2017–18, about 72,000 hospitalisations for dental conditions may have been prevented with earlier treatment.
Data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed in 2017–18, only one in two Australians aged 15 and over said they had seen a dentist over the past 12 months.
 
A national study of adult oral health conducted by the University of Adelaide found that in the same year, 39 per cent said they avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to the cost.
 
Pensioner Earnest Vallance, 72, from Wollongong had been on the waiting list for two years to get dentures and when they failed, he was again placed on the waiting list.
 
“The first time it took two years and I couldn’t wait that long so I paid for them myself. I went without and had to cut back on things to buy them. The system to me is a big mess,” he said.

Listen to Kathleen Matthews discuss the current public dental waiting list on 2GB radio here >

Read the full The Sunday Telegraph article here >

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