The Victorian Oral Health Alliance is calling on the State and Federal Governments to focus on oral health and increase funding for the provision of public dental care following the release of new data from the Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch which shows waiting times in Victoria continuing to increase.
There are more than 1.5 million Victorian adults eligible for public dental care who are now forced to wait on average 24.8 months to receive an appointment for basic dental care, an increase of 2.1 months since June 2021. This is the longest waiting time for the past 10 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted access to dental care, and this has seen far fewer people able to receive treatment. However, this has just exacerbated the problems of an already underfunded system.
Public dental care is funded predominantly by the State Government, with additional funding from the Commonwealth through the National Partnership Agreement and the Medicare Child Dental Benefits Schedule. There is an important role for the Commonwealth, firstly through the establishment of a Medicare Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme (a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety and Quality) and reform of the National Partnership Agreement to develop a sustainable funding model.
VOHA welcomes the announcement in December 2021 by the Victorian Government of an
additional $27 million this year, both for the catch-up care it will fund but also for the recognition of oral health as an important issue for many Victorians. However it is important to recognise that this band-aid measure will not address the longer term issues in public dentistry.
With poor oral health contributing to poor overall health and affecting social and emotional well-being, it is time for both the State and Federal Governments to fund dental care properly. There is a need to implement one of the key recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission through the establishment on a Medicare Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme, as well as boosting the National Partnership Agreement funding for public dental care. The State Government must also increase their funding to ensure that more patients are able to access necessary dental care.