A new report from the Grattan Institute again highlights the gap between the dental care people need and the care they receive. This is the worst gap for any major disease in the health system in our state. Oral health care is a critical component of primary care, but access to oral health care is notably more difficult for many eligible people (41% of Victorians) because of the length of public waiting lists and higher cost structure in comparison to other key parts of primary care.
Public waiting lists in Victoria are growing. The average wait is nearly 20 months, but in many rural parts of the state it can be over two years. Even in metropolitan Melbourne the wait is over 40 months at some clinics. Current funding mean that only one fifth of those eligible can be treated in any one year in public clinics. Lack of regular care means many people end up requiring emergency care or even hospitalisation. For example, 16,000 Victorians every year have hospital care for dental conditions that could have been prevented, costing government $60m.
The associated health, economic and service access issues are considerably different for older people, particularly for those on low incomes and those living in Residential Aged Care Facilities.
Research suggests that the health implications associated with oral and dental health issues are significant for older people, and potentially greater than for the overall adult population.
COTA Victoria is a member of the Victorian Oral Health Alliance calling for greater State and Federal funding for Oral Health.
COTA Australia has called for the following measures and were disappointed that oral health was not addressed in the recent Federal Budget:
- Introduce an oral and dental health support scheme for older Australians on low incomes, and for people living in Residential Aged Care Facilities. Consider a scheme that would be similar in supports to the existing Child Dental Health Scheme but designed for older Australians.
- Implement a new National Partnership on Public Dental Services for Adults (the existing partnership expires 30 June 2019), with the inclusion of performance benchmarks to provide adequate support for people in Residential Aged Care Facilities. Moreover, consider the inclusion of increased support for mobile dental services to people living in Residential Aged Care Facilities.
For older people on low incomes or living in Residential Aged Care Facilities, these measures would significantly contribute to improved oral and dental health, leading to an improved quality of life and a potential reduction of other related health issues.
We encourage you to speak to your local MPs (both State and Federal) to encourage them to urgently address this important health issue for older Australians.