A recent survey of consumer experiences of trying to get timely dental care has again revealed significant and diverse problems for consumers including one person resorting to super glue to fix a broken tooth while waiting for care.
The Victorian Oral Health Alliance (VOHA) asked staff in community information agencies around Victoria, facilitated by its member Community Information & Support Victoria, to share stories of their clients’ oral health issues, especially around access to timely care. An analysis of the 20 (deidentified) client stories/experiences reported revealed the following.
Low income and vulnerable people
The stories all related to low-income people, most reliant on a benefit or pension. Some had mental health, homelessness or family violence issues they were coping with. For example, one aged pensioner, aged 79 and living in public housing and on a tight budget, needed 8 teeth extracted due to poor dental hygiene.
Poor oral health with significant impacts
Almost all clients have very poor oral health. They reported many teeth missing, cracked or rotten, and in some cases needed 8 or more teeth replaced or extracted. Gum disease and ongoing pain were also commonly cited. One client even reported using super glue to repair a broken tooth.
In all cases, the lack of dental treatment was having a direct impact on their overall health and their lives more broadly. Some experienced ongoing pain and discomfort. Others were prevented from eating a full range of foods. Some were extremely self-conscious of his appearance (e.g. were embarrassed or talked with their hand over their mouth). Factors like this caused continued stress and some experienced a serious effect on their self-esteem, confidence and capacity to cope. In turn, such issues had broader implications for people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, including affecting employment prospects in some cases and an ability to go out or socialise normally with others.
Cost and long waits key barriers
Cost of treatment was universally described as their barrier to timely private care, along with the long wait for public care. One client reported that the cost of treatment was beyond their means, but long term this probably implies that more expensive treatment will be required down the track.
Most clients were on a public clinic waiting list, and most had been waiting more than 9 months, two of them for than two years. Clients expressed frustration with such long waits for public dental care, which had been exacerbated by Covid. Although they couldn’t afford it, in the end, some people had borrowed money in order to get private care instead.
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