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Close the Gap: Shortage of Dental Care a National Problem

29 June 2007

The Health Services Union said today there needed to be a national solution to the dental care crisis with new figures showing almost 200,000 people on waiting lists for treatment in NSW alone.

HSU national secretary Craig Thomson said the shortage of services was affecting families and dental care staff who were working under severe pressure due to the lack of resources.

"There is evidence that across Australia 650,000 people are waiting up to ten years for the treatment they need and the published figures are really just the tip of the iceberg," he said.

"Almost 50 per cent of people are saying they have put off dental care they need because of the cost.

"This crisis is having a flow on effect to other areas of the health system because a lack of dental care can turn into chronic illness.

"The HSU believes the best solution is to extend Medicare to ensure free basic dental treatment is available to the elderly and to children. We also want an expansion of state services for low-income families.

"Despite clearly having the financial resources, the Federal Government has missed its chance to put in place a solution to the dental crisis.

"They are proceeding with a scheme that only addresses a tiny part of the problem for people with chronic illness. Spending only around $90 million extra year is far short of what is required.

"For 11 years the Commonwealth Government has sat by and watched this problem get worse.

"It is unacceptable in a country like Australia where we pride ourselves on the quality of healthcare to be not doing more to ensure people have access to dental care.

"It is clear that the state and territory government's need to do more on dental care but without a national solution they will not fix the problem.

"Extending Medicare is our best way to address this issue in a way which will help working families and ensure that no matter what people's income they can get the treatment they need.

"People think that is only the elderly who are affected but the fact is as today's figures reveal tens of thousands of children are being forced to live with tooth decay and oral disease.

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