Older people are waiting more than two years to receive dental work through Victoria’s public dental health system.
The waiting time for dentures as of 30 June 2018 was nearly 18 months, according to the Victorian Department of Health website. And wait times are growing – a year ago the waiting list for dentures was only 16 months.
The waiting time for general dental care in Victoria is nearly 20 months.
“It’s ridiculous,” Fiona Patten, leader of Victoria’s Reason Party, told HelloCare.
“I don’t know why dental isn’t part of our Medicare system. It’s hard to fathom why dental care is not treated the same as any other part of the body,” she said.
Ms Patten said that wait times can be even longer in some regional areas. In Victoria’s Grampions region, the wait time for general dental work is more than 30 months, she said.
Since the Federal government cut dental health funding by 30 per cent, the Victorian government has had to prioritise services for emergencies and at-risk populations – such as homeless people, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, pregnant women, according to Ms Patten.
Dental health should be a priority in old age
As we age, we can become prone to a greater range of dental problems, so our dental health becomes more important than ever.
“We all know that dental health is a big issue in our old age. It’s going to become more and more acute if we don’t start more strategic planning,” Ms Patten said.
Dental problems are the highest cause of hospital admissions for children, and the third highest case of hospital admissions for adults, she said. The lack of dental care services is burdening the nation’s healthcare system.
“The government needs to invest more in [dental care],” she said.
Finding creative solutions
Ms Patten said that urgent strategic planning and “creative solutions” are required to shorten Victoria’s waiting lists in the public dental system.
She said dental schools that aren’t being used out of term time, which amounts to around five months a year, and could be used during term breaks to provide dental services. A dental school Ms Patten was familiar with has 15 dental chairs. If those chairs could be used, even if only for part of the year, they could contribute to bringing down wait lists times.
Ms Patten said Melbourne’s new injecting room, the first in the city, has introduced dental services to help address the dental needs of drug users.
Ms Patten also suggested that retired dentists could work on a circuit throughout remote and regional Australia, where services are in particularly short supply, to help shorten waiting list times.