When it comes to splashing out on health costs, the first area that tends to be overlooked by many Aussies is oral hygiene, with new data revealing that four in 10 people did not pay a single visit to their dentist last year.
The cost of treatment, which is not covered by Medicare, is the main reason for people avoiding the dentist’s chair, with a routine check-up, clean and fluoride treatment setting patients back an average of $66 a time, according to The Australian Dental Association’s Dental Fee Survey, with some people shelling out as much as $92 for a basic dental exam.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that new research, conducted by comparethemarket.com.au, found that an overwhelming majority (61 per cent) of Australians have delayed necessary dental treatment and procedures in a bid to avoid the out-of-pocket costs.
And the figures revealed that it is the recommended biannual check-ups that people skip most regularly, with 32 per cent of the 1,087 people surveyed admitting they’ve pushed back their routine exam due to the expense.
It isn’t just general check-ups that patients are foregoing either, as almost a third said they’ve delayed pricier treatments such as orthodontics, which can cost anywhere between $5000-9000, and 30 per cent confessed to waiting before having a necessary cap or crown fitted because of the associated cost, which can be more than $1,500 for a full crown.
People aren’t just putting off treatment temporarily either it seems, as the survey also found that one fifth of respondents hadn’t been to the dentist for at least two years, while 15 per cent confessed that it had been more than three years since they last sat in the chair.
The Australian Dental Association’s Dental Fee Survey also found the average cost for a filling is $175, a root canal averages out to $278, while a wisdom tooth extraction can cost anywhere between $500-3000.
Compare the Market spokesperson Jennifer Williams told Starts at 60 that older Australians should think seriously about taking out cover for their dental health, so they don’t run into unexpected costs and can have “peace of mind” in case the worst does happen and they need major dental work in the future.
However, acknowledging that the upfront costs of health cover can be off-putting, Williams added that many policies actually offer benefits such as free annual check-ups and urged people to check what they may be entitled to, before writing off the idea of taking out health insurance.
“Taking care of dental health is really important,” she said. “So leveraging what they are covered for in their policy can keep costs minimised, because a lot of benefits enable people to go in and have free check ups regularly if they go to participating dentists.
“The other thing is looking at the structure of their policies. For instance, if they know they may have major work coming up, a policy that has lower rebates but a higher annual spend limit may be more cost effective for them in the long run.”
Williams advised anyone without health and dental cover to start by doing some research and looking into what policies are available, adding that the Compare the Market call centre can help customers to find the best cover to suit their individual needs.
She also stressed that people who do not currently have cover should be aware that they will be required to sit waiting periods before they’re covered. However, she clarified that, despite popular misconceptions, anyone who is covered currently can switch providers or policies without needing to sit waiting periods again.
“As your body ages, what you require cover for changes,” she added. “It’s very much something that not only changes as your age changes, but as your lifestyle changes. Really it’s about fitting it to what you can afford and what you need in terms of your risk factors.”
Williams also said that the upcoming premium hike of 3.25 per cent in April should factor into people’s decisions, along with the new private health insurance reforms set to come into effect on April 1 which will restructure the available tiers of cover available, making it simpler for consumers.
Starts at 60 readers are among those who have put off treatment due to unaffordable fees, with some community members admitting it has been several years since they last paid their dentist a visit.
Sue Waters said she has delayed dental procedures and treatment due to the cost, adding: “So damn expensive for those without private health.”
While Suzanne Guymer-Arday said: “I’ve never put off regular dental checks. Get recalled yearly to keep on top of work to be done. Also have great extras health cover to help pay for it.”
The figures also revealed that, of those who do visit the dentist and find themselves faced with huge bills, most people (50 per cent) would dip into their savings to cover the costs. While 39 per cent would rack up credit card debt to pay for treatment and 20 per cent would see if they could go on a payment plan. Some people also said they would turn to friends and family for a loan to cover the costs, while others would even consider drawing on their superannuation.
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