In the publicity video for her latest book Moranifesto, Caitlin Moran implores us to make a YouTube clip describing one good idea that would make the world a better place.
I detest seeing myself on screen, so I’ve decided to write mine down instead.
My idea: affordable dentistry in Australia.
I was first made aware of this need when I started working for StreetDoctor in 2012. Tooth complaints are very frequent amongst the homeless, and I always feel a terrible wave of guilt when all we can do for their toothaches is give them a Panadol, send them to the ED or encourage them to ‘see a dentist if you can’. For most (if not all) people living on the streets, visiting a dentist is a ‘luxury’ then cannot afford. But why should it be a luxury? Good dentition is not only important for preventing certain diseases, but also vitally important for self-esteem. A person with decaying stumps for teeth is less likely to feel confident when going for a job interview, or to be employed for that matter, thereby perpetuating the cycle of homelessness.
But it’s not just our homeless and marginalised that are affected. In my current role as a junior doctor in geriatrics, I’ve seen many people that would benefit from anti-osteoporosis therapies such as bisphosphonates and RANKL inhibitors. Before starting these therapies, it is important that patients see a dentist; having any major dental work done whilst on these medications can lead to ‘osteonecrosis of the jaw’ (in other words, death and breakdown of the jaw bone). Despite its importance, visiting a dentist is something that many of our elderly patients just cannot afford. Plus, even when they try to make a dental appointment, they can spend months on the few public waiting lists unless they can afford to go privately.
I’m not the only one who thinks affordable dentistry is necessary. ‘Denticare’, the brainchild of Greens Leader and doctor Senator Richard di Natale, is a fully costed plan that would bring dental care into Medicare. In 2014, phase one of this project entitled ‘Denticare for Kids’ (administered via Labor’s Child Dental Benefits Schedule) was rolled out. This meant that children aged 2-17 years in families that received Family Tax Benefit A could claim up to $1000 in Medicare-funded public or private dental treatment. Since 2014 over a million children have received dental care under this plan; nearly all were bulk-billed and 80% were treated by private dentists.
As we all know however, with changes in government come changes in policy. The Coalition government has recently announced that they will scrap the Child Dental Benefits Schedule from July 1 2016 and replace it with the Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme. While the provision of $2.1 billion over five years sounds promising, the announcement of this plan has concerned many in the dental community. Under the plan, all children under the age of 18 will be eligible for subsidised public dental care only, putting immense pressure on the already limited public dental system. The new plan also cuts $200 million annually from the current dental health care budget.
We don’t need chopping and changing, and we certainly don’t need a bursting public dental system. What we need is consistent Australia-wide funding for dentistry that allows people of all ages to easily access dental care.
IS THAT REALLY TOO MUCH TO ASK?
Teeth are vitally important, and there is no reason why they should be treated differently to any other body part. If Australians can stroll into a public hospital and receive free medical treatment, then why shouldn’t they be able to easily access free dental care too?