02 February 2022

Public dental waiting lists balloon as impacts of COVID-19 bite

Waiting times for public dental care in Victoria have ballooned over the past six months as the impact of restrictions on access to basic dental care and a chronic lack of funding continue.

“There are more than 1.5 million Victorian adults who are eligible to access public dental care in Victoria, but only 100,000 were able to receive care in the past 6 months, around 26 per cent fewer than normal,” ADAVB CEO A/Prof Matt Hopcraft said.

“Public dental waiting times have now increased to 24.8 months across Victoria, up from 22.7 months in June 2021. These are the worst delays in care this decade, and the average hides a dire story with 34,000 patients forced to wait more than three years.”

A/Prof Hopcraft said that while people wait years for dental care, their existing problems worsen and often lead to the need for emergency treatment. Half of all courses of care in the public system were for emergencies rather than routine and preventive treatment.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic extends beyond the public sector, with lockdowns impacting on the ability for all Victorians to access dental care.

“Dental practices have been prevented from providing routine dental care through each of the lockdown periods since the pandemic began. In more than six of the last 24 months dental practices have been restricted to only providing urgent or emergency dental care,” said ADAVB President Dr Jeremy Sternson.

“Patients have had to defer routine dental care, regular dental check-ups and preventive treatment, leading to a deterioration in their oral health. After each period of lockdown ends, dentists see many patients with problems, that could have been managed in a conservative manner, progressing to more serious disease – for example tooth decay that could have been treated with a simple filling now needing root canal treatment or even extraction because their care has been delayed,” Dr Sternson said.

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