Dental Tribune Asia Pacific

Report shows Australians are avoiding dentists owing to associated costs

By Brendan Day, DTI
August 07, 2020

SYDNEY, Australia: Though the importance of good oral health is clear to most, if not all, Australians, access to dental services remains a considerable obstacle to achieving this goal for many in the country. A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has highlighted the prohibitive costs of many dental procedures, leading the Australian Dental Association (ADA) to predict “an oral health crisis post-COVID-19”.

The AIHW’s report brings together recent data from sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics in order to provide an insight into the use of dental services in Australia. Though the country has a government-funded universal healthcare system called Medicare in operation that covers the cost of many public health services, dentistry is, by and large, excluded from this. As a result, only 53% of the population possess health insurance that includes dental coverage, according to the AIHW, leading many patients to bear the burden of many dental expenses directly.

As the report demonstrates, even patients with private health insurance that covers dental treatment can still be subject to considerable and varying out-of-pocket costs. Whereas the median out-of-pocket cost for a complete crown was found to be A$786 (€ 477) with private health insurance, some patients paid as little as A$26, while others were charged as much as A$1,989 (€ 1,206).

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Rachel David, the chief executive of Private Healthcare Australia, argued that much of the cost of dental procedures had been shifted from the federal government to health insurance companies. According to the AIHW’s report, the federal government spent A$1.580 billion (€ 960 million) on dental services in 2017/18, whereas health insurance companies had to pay A$2.008 billion (€ 1.22 billion). However, state governments were also found to have contributed A$859 million (€ 521 million) over the same time frame to help maintain the country’s oral health.

ADA sounds the alarm

The ADA, which is currently in the middle of its annual Dental Health Week promotion, said that the report highlighted how oral health inequalities had existed well before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic—though the outbreak had undeniably had a negative effect on the oral and overall health of Australians.

“COVID-19 is having a detrimental effect on the oral health of the nation, as people are treating themselves to more sugary treats while stuck at home, and they’re not attending dental appointments owing to income loss or because of concerns about proximity to others, despite dentists always working with the full range of personal protective equipment and patient triaging,” an ADA spokesperson told Dental Tribune International. “The upshot is the Australian Dental Association predicts an oral health crisis post-COVID-19, with higher rates of dental caries and mouth issues.”

The spokesperson added: “Before the pandemic hit, we already knew the oral health of the nation was heading in the wrong direction, with one in three people walking around with untreated caries and our average daily sugar intake many times higher than the World Health Organization-recommended levels—so this pandemic is making a bad situation even worse.”

The report, titled Oral Health and Dental Care in Australia, was published online by the AIHW on 31 July 2020.


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