26 July 2023
Waiting times for public dental care increasing again, amidst concerns over workforce challenges.
As predicted, waiting times for public dental treatment are starting to increase again in Victoria, sparking ongoing concerns about a public dental system in crisis and the inability for more than 1.5 million eligible Victorians adults to access necessary dental care. The Victorian Government provided a one-off injection of funds last year to tackle record high waiting lists following the pandemic, but with funding returning to normal levels, the pressure in the system is beginning to mount.
“Waiting times have increased slightly from 16.5 months in December to 16.9 months in June, with the number of people waiting for care increasing from 60,000 to nearly 72,000. We were pleased that our advocacy saw the government provide $27 million last year to target a waiting list that had blown out to 26.7 months and more than 151,000 people. But we warned that once funding returned to normal levels that waiting times would increase, and that is exactly what we are seeing now,” said ADAVB President Dr Jonathan Teoh.
One area of concern is that the number of patients who have received care over the past 12 months is drastically below the needs of the community.
“Only 336,000 patients received care in the past 12 months – a fraction of the more than 2.5 million children and adults who are eligible to access public dental care. This also reflects the challenges that many public dental clinics are facing in recruiting and retaining staff. Without an adequate number of dentists in the system, treatment doesn’t happen,” said Dr Teoh. “Staff levels are down on what they were four years ago, but the expected service targets continue.”
While people wait for dental care, their existing problems worsen, often leading to the need for emergency treatment. More than one third of all courses of care in the public system were for emergencies rather than routine and preventive treatment.
The ADAVB and Professionals Australia are negotiating a new enterprise agreement for public sector dentists, but with the Victorian dentists paid on average at least 20% less than their interstate counterparts, it is not surprising that the workforce has declined significantly over the past four years. On top of that, dental specialists in training continue to provide much of the specialist level dental care in the public system working in an unpaid capacity.
“Dental specialists in training are the backbone of specialist dental care provision in the public sector, and the pipeline for the future workforce. Yet unlike their dental colleagues interstate and their Victorian medical colleagues, they are expected to provide this care for free,” said Dr Teoh.
There is a Senate Select Committee looking at the provision of and access to dental services in Australia, and we remain hopeful that this will be the catalyst for a coordinated approach between State and Federal governments to deliver better oral health outcomes. But there is an urgent need for the Victorian government to prioritise dental care for the 1.5 million adult patients eligible for public care.
Oral health is fundamental to overall health, wellbeing and quality of life. A healthy mouth enables people to eat, speak and socialise without pain, discomfort or embarrassment. Dental diseases lead to pain, discomfort and tooth loss, and can lead to difficulties with chewing, swallowing and speech. Poor oral health can cause problems with nutrition and general health, disruptions to sleep and productivity. It can be a barrier to full participation in society including the ability to gain or maintain employment. There are also links between poor oral health and general diseases, including Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Average wait times at selected dental clinics:
- North Richmond Community Health: 44.6 months
- DPV Health: 25.4 months
- Inspiro Community Health Service : 24.6 months
- South West Healthcare: 38.1 months
- Latrobe Community Health Service: 30.2 months
- Sunraysia Community Health: 32.6 months
These numbers reflect the average waiting time for people once they come off the waiting list for care.
Interviews are available with ADAVB President Dr Jonathan Teoh and CEO A/Prof Matt Hopcraft (tel. 0412 487 853).
More information and detailed data for public dental waiting times is available at https://adavb.org/advocacy/campaigns/public-dental-waiting-times
Anna Aldridge, Communications Manager
Tel: 8825 4600.