Longer wait for basics as gap grows

CHIP AWAY: Dr Michael Jonas says there needs to be more government funding to make regular dentistry more affordable.
CHIP AWAY: Dr Michael Jonas says there needs to be more government funding to make regular dentistry more affordable.

It has to be built into the system.

Dr Michael Jonas

The waiting list for basic dental treatment in the New England has seen an exponential rise in the first half of this year alone.

This is something dentists are attributing not just to COVID interruptions but more fundamentally the inability for residents to afford regular check ups.

Data shows the Hunter New England Health District has 13,600 adults currently waiting for public dental treatment.

This is an increase of about 800 in the first half of 2020 alone.

Over 100,000 adult patients in NSW are now on the public waiting list.

"COVID obviously played a large part in that build up," Tamworth Darling Dental's Dr Michael Jonas explained.

"But a lot of people only come along when they have a major problem. Broken teeth, pain, swelling, something that makes their life miserable.

"But simple preventable treatments we do day in and day out, they don't present for. It has to be built into the system."

Mouth care is like taking you car for a service, he said: getting regular services prevents any big, expensive problems.

But for that there needs to be more funding, according to the Australian Dental Association NSW (ADA NSW), of which Dr Jonas is vice president.

"For reasons unbeknownst, mouth care is not considered a part of general health - where you can get so many other body parts included, the mouth does not apply," Dr Jonas said.

"So treatment is ignored, episodic, and a bit haphazard."

Medicare doesn't cover the majority of dental care including dental procedures or supplies. Cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions, dentures, dental plates, or other dental devices are not covered.

ADA NSW President Dr Kathleen Matthews said the latest figures 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," she said.

"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?"

Last year's Grattan Institute report shows that more than two million Australians don't go to the dentist every year due to the cost.

Dr Matthews says these figures again "illustrate the urgent need for greater investment in Australia's oral health."