Let's talk: Should dental care be included in our public health system?

Everyone has them but for some reason, our government does not classify teeth as worthy of inclusion in the Medicare system.

Dental care is in such a state now that it can hurt our pockets to have vital procedures, even more so than surgeries and cancer treatments.

Dr Lesley Russell from the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute believes it is time that medical and dental practitioners combined forces to stop an escalation in tooth decay and oral disease in Australia once and for all.

She said that “medicine and dentistry remain distinct practices that have never been treated the same way by the health care system, health insurance funds, public health professionals, policymakers and the public”. As most of us know, if you have a dental issue, it can be difficult or even impossible to have surgery on another part of your body. This means there can be dire consequences for those of us who are struggling and cannot afford expensive dental care.

Oral disease be devastating as it connected to the rest of the body, and can lead to physical illness and trauma – a fact that many medical practitioners and even the government ignores.

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According to a 2014 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), our dental health has not improved in recent years. In fact, as a society we are experience more oral problems than ever before. Over one third of adults have untreated decay and over 50 per cent of people 65 years old and older have had gum disease, with a further 20 per cent having lost one or more teeth.

Dr Russell wrote in her article in the Medical Journal of Australia that untreated dental caries and oral disease cause eating and speaking difficulties and disrupt sleep and productivity. “Poor oral health has been linked to infective carditis, coronary heart disease, stroke, adverse pregnancy outcomes and aspiration pneumonia. Destruction of the soft tissues in the mouth can cause lasting disability and even death”, she said.

Oral problems go further than affecting our overall health – they can even impair our appearance and speech so much that we may lose confidence and inhibit our ability to seek employment or interact socially.

As a nation, we spent $7.857 billion on dental treatment in 2010 and 2011, with care costs exceeding $1 billion. So how can we end the medical-dental divide?

One solution being offered is from the Greens party, called Denticare.

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On their website, the far-left party propose this Medicare division: “The mouth is part of the body and dental health should be part of our universal health care system. The Greens will bring dental care under Medicare so that everyone can get necessary treatment no matter what their circumstances may be”.

“Our Denticare policy would bring dental health fully in to Medicare and extend benefits to all Australians. Denticare would give all Australians access to dental care under Medicare, and would phase in over 5 years, starting with the most needy. Under Denticare, going to the dentist would be just like going to the doctor”.

It’s definitely something important enough that it has people thinking and talking about it.

So we want to know today: what do you think? Should dentistry and medicine be considered one of the same? How have your dental issues affected your life? Tell us below.