The Victorian Oral Health Alliance (VOHA) is an alliance of health, professional and consumer bodies, urging the Government to reverse the decline in access to public dental care. COTA is actively involved with the VOHA to increase funding to improve access to dental health services for older Victorians.
VOHA and COTA see the following as the key dental health issues facing older Victorians:
- Access to general public dental care is limited, relative to almost every other kind of primary health care (months/years compared to days/weeks).
- Waiting lists for public dental care are long and have grown by 19% in one year. Some metropolitan and rural services report a three-year wait.
- Preventable hospital admissions for dental conditions are currently costing an estimated $60 million per year.
The oral health needs of older people have changed over the past 50 years. More people are retaining their natural teeth, but the complexity of their needs has continued to increase:
- Tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer are prevalent.
- 46,000 people are in permanent residential aged care in Victoria, and dental care in aged care facilities is irregular at best.
- Poor oral health can worsen diabetes and heart disease. It is also a risk for the respiratory disease ‘aspiration pneumonia’, which is reported to occur in 33 per 1,000 aged care residents per year.
A greater focus on prevention and early intervention in dental health could pay for itself by reducing cases of preventable care in already crowded hospitals. Pain free, healthy teeth and gums are essential for adequate nutrition and quality of life; providing regular and targeted oral health care to older people, particularly those in aged care facilities, would assist them to overcome a significant barrier to maintaining good oral health.
As a member of VOHA, we have been writing to and meeting with government officials. The good news is that on May 24 the Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy, announced a $12.1 million ‘dental waiting list blitz’ to drive down treatment delays. Funding will ensure 18,300 more people on a waiting list will be treated by the end of June, with some additional funding going towards prevention and health promotion activities.
To make an appointment at the Royal Dental Hospital, or at your nearest community dental clinic, call (03) 9341 1000.