Date Published: 17 February 2009

Dental Health Failing in the Bus

Health News from Australia.

A new report shows that Australians in rural and regional areas struggle to get the dental care they need, when compared with people in cities.

These figures, from 2004-2006, highlight the importance of the Rudd Government’s dental initiatives – including the Commonwealth Dental Health Program, which the Liberals are blocking funding for.

The sad state of dental health in rural and regional Australia is an indictment of the previous Liberal Government’s neglect of dental health, and their decision to shut down the old Commonwealth Dental Health Program in 1996.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report Geographic variation in oral health and use of dental services in the Australian population 2004–06 showed rural and regional Australians were worse off on almost all dental outcome measures.

The key findings in today’s report are that, compared with capital city dwellers, Australians in other areas were:

* more likely to have untreated tooth decay (33% vs 22%), complete tooth loss (9% vs 5%) and inadequate dentition, that is fewer than 21 teeth (14% vs 10%);
* less likely to report usually visiting the dentist annually (46% vs 57%) or report an actual dental visit in the previous 12 months (54% vs 62%);
* more likely to have had one or more teeth extracted in the previous 12 months (18.5% vs 12.5%).

It also found people in rural and regional areas were more likely to go to the dentist only to have immediate dental problems addressed rather than going to a dentist regularly for check-ups and preventive treatment. This pattern leads to fewer but more
serious treatments, and poorer oral health in the long term.

The Rudd Government has done a lot to improve dental care, but wants to do more. Unfortunately, the Liberals are blocking $290 million funding for the Commonwealth Dental Health Program, to boost public dental services.

Under the CDHP, states and territories would be funded to improve dental health in rural and remote areas. This would include additional facilities and fly-in-fly-out dental services.

The CDHP would deliver up to a million extra public dental services – targeting disadvantaged Australians such as pensioners, concession card holders and Indigenous Australians, with key priority groups including people with chronic illnesses and pre-school children.

The Government is also investing:

- $490 million for the Teen Dental Plan, to provide eligible teenagers with up to $150 towards a preventative dental check;
- $69.2 million over five years for a new regional dental school at Charles Sturt University, including 40 new training places in dentistry and 20 new training places in oral health annually from 2009; pre-clinical and clinical facilities, and student accommodation in Orange and Wagga Wagga; and dental education clinics in Albury, Bathurst and Dubbo.
- $49.5 million over four years for a new dental school at James Cook University in Cairns, including funding for capital infrastructure, 60 new Commonwealth supported dentistry places annually from 2009, and a clinical training outreach program.



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