Painful wait for public dental care

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The wait for public dental care in Geelong is nearly 13 months, with experts saying the pandemic and chronic underfunding are to blame.

The backlog is even worse in nearby Wyndham, where residents face an agonizing 44.2-month wait to see a dentist through the public system.

Of the 1.5 million adults eligible for public dental care in Victoria in the 12 months to July, only 181,000 were able to access care.

The Australian Dental Association says a lack of funding combined with the COVID-19 pandemic has left Victoria with the worst dental crisis in over a decade.

Wait times for general dental care currently average 26.7 months across Victoria.

The ADA says long wait times mean nearly half of all dental visits are for emergency treatment, rather than regular treatment and preventative care.

The CEO of the ADA’s Victorian branch, Associate Professor Matt Hopcraft, said insufficient government funding is a huge problem.

“We don’t see enough funds to recruit new dentists and retain dentists working in these areas,” he told Geelong Broadcasters.

“But the closures have also had an impact,” he said.

“Luckily in Geelong, at Barwon Health, the wait time is only 12.9 months, so a lot of work has been done to help improve access to care.

Ass Prof Matt Hopcraft ADAVB

According to the ADA, the wait time for general dental care at Bellarine Health is 22.9 months.

ADAVB has released a list of actions it believes will improve access to public dental care.

They understand:

  • Establish a dental benefits scheme for the elderly, in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Safety and Quality of Care for the Aged
  • Increase the number of public dental patients treated per year to 800,000 within five years
  • Develop a sustainable funding strategy to shift the focus of the system from treatment to prevention

The organization also wants the addition of a tax on sugary drinks and the removal of junk food advertisements in public spaces.

Prof Hopcraft said people also need to take responsibility for their own oral health.

“It’s really important that people put their oral health first – if it’s been a while since you’ve been to the dentist, we really encourage you to go now.”

Images: Top – The waiting list for public dental care is nearly 4 years old from Wyndham (E Akyurt/Pixabay); middle – associate professor Matt Hopcraft (supplied)

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