Financial barriers to dental care: New study reveals alarming trends among older Australians

Mar 21, 2024
The findings underscore a pressing need for accessible dental care solutions, particularly for older individuals on lower incomes. Source: Getty Images.

New research findings unveiled by COTA Australia, the leading voice for older Australians, shed light on a concerning trend: nearly four in ten Australians aged 55 and above have delayed or altogether avoided dental visits in the past year due to financial constraints.

This revelation underscores a pressing need for accessible dental care solutions, particularly for older individuals on lower incomes.

The study, released to coincide with World Oral Health Day on March 20, reveals a startling statistic: 44 per cent of older Australians with lower incomes, including pensioners and those in aged care, have deferred dental appointments due to cost concerns.

This reluctance to seek dental care poses significant risks to overall health, especially for older adults who are more vulnerable to the health repercussions of neglected dental health.

Patricia Sparrow, CEO of COTA Australia, emphasised the urgency of addressing this issue, urging policymakers to take swift action. Sparrow highlighted the crucial role of good oral health in maintaining overall well-being and stressed the need for government intervention to ensure affordable dental care for older Australians.

“The fact that we’ve got four in every ten older Australians skipping or delaying their dental care should be a real wake up call to our politicians,” Sparrow said.

“These findings back up what we’re hearing directly from older people. It’s not uncommon for us to hear stories of older Australians not getting the urgent dental work they require simply because it’s too expensive.

“Good oral health is vital for maintaining good overall health, and the risks of not getting the care people need can be incredibly serious – even life threatening in some extreme cases.

“Having good dental care is essential to good health, no matter what your age. But we know that as you get older the risk of broader health implications increase.”

Sparrow stressed that these findings underscore the imperative for immediate action from the Federal Government to implement a Seniors Dental Benefit Scheme. This scheme, endorsed by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, is deemed essential for all residents of nursing homes, pensioners, and holders of Seniors Healthcare Cards.

“Millions of Australians, both young and older, are putting their health at risk because they simply can’t afford the dental and oral care they need,” she said.

“Having dental bulk billed through Medicare would ensure people can get the care they need, limit the number of people getting ill as a result of not getting the care they need, and will help address our current cost of living crisis. It’s a common-sense solution to an increasingly alarming problem impacting millions of Australians of every age.

“The first, most urgent step, for the Federal Government should be to introduce a publicly funded senior Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme bulk billed through Medicare, as was recommended by the Royal Commission into Aged Care.”

As older Australians await improvements in the dental care system, it’s crucial to take proactive steps at home to maintain oral health.

When it comes to maintaining good oral health in your later years, Advisory Services Manager, Engagement & Advocacy Executive, Dr Sarah Raphael from the Australian Dental Association NSW Branch suggests keeping things simple at the bathroom sink.

“It’s the good old basic things – performing oral hygiene twice daily – toothbrushing with fluoride toothpaste, cleaning dentures and leaving them out at night, eating a diet low in added sugar, drinking tap water as the main drink and staying well hydrated (have a water bottle available at all times),” Raphael said.

Furthermore, Raphael underscores the significance of preventive measures over treatment, recommending regular dental check-ups to address potential issues before they escalate.

“Ensuring that they have regular preventive dental visits in their senior years is the best way to avoid these consequences,” she said.

Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up