They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, as far as dentists are concerned the potential cost alone is enough to have some us running for the hills.
In Australia, we are lucky enough to have a public health system to fall back on if we suddenly fall ill or are involved in an accident. But the same can’t be said for our dental care.
The dental procedures covered by Medicare are extremely limited and most Australians are left with two options – pay the full amount upfront or take out private health insurance and bear that expense in order to have some of the cost of treatment covered.
The Australian Government’s Private Health Insurance Ombudsman website publishes a list of all the services not covered by Medicare. That includes podiatry, acupuncture, chiropractic services, and ‘most dental examinations and treatment’.
If you are under 17 years old or hold an Australian Government Concession Card, such as a health care card, pensioner concession card or a Commonwealth Senior Health Card, you are eligible to receive some free dental work through the public health system. The amount of dental work you can receive depends on the state or territory you live in, but on average only includes ‘general dental care’.
According to the Medicare website, ‘general dental care’ includes examinations, fillings, and dentures. Procedures that extend beyond general dental care are often the most expensive treatments, however,
A study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that of the people who visited a private dentist in a 12-month period, 20 percent found the treatment too costly to go ahead with. What is more alarming is that 44 percent of those without dental insurance avoided even attending the dentist because of the high cost.
Anish Shah, a dentist from Perth told the ABC he understood that the cost of dentistry means many avoid dental treatment.
But, he made the point that the costs involved with dentistry are hard to mitigate.
“Dentistry is highly technological and a skilled, labor-intensive process and so it’s not something that can be converted to a market situation where prices can go down,” Shah said. “The set-up costs in trying to get a practice running are significant … The total cost that a patient has to pay for includes not just the dentist but also the reception staff, nursing staff, licensing and rent.”
On average the wait times for dental health care (for those who are eligible) can be very long. In some states, patients wait an average of 18 months before seeing a dental professional.
With waiting times already high, there are many that believe a national dental system could put even more strain on the healthcare system and would not be a viable option for the future.
Younger Australians are lucky, however, according to the AIHW report. This is because statistics show younger people to have much better oral health than older generations due to water fluoridisation and better general dental awareness.