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Wednesday, 21 March 2007
Page: 170

Senator Allison asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 17 January 2007:

(1)   With reference to data contained in the October 2006 report, Fair Dental Care for Low Income Earners, by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), does the Government agree that:

(a)   Australians most likely to be in pain and unable to access dental treatment are single parents, people on low incomes, people living in nursing homes, older people, people living in rural and remote areas and Indigenous people;

(b)   people with poor dental health have difficulty eating and speaking and often suffer avoidable health problems such as tooth loss or gum disease;

(c)   approximately 500 000 people are on waiting lists around Australia for general dental care from public dental services with an average waiting time of 27 months;

(d)   40 per cent of Australians cannot access dental care when they need it;

(e)   there will be a national shortage of around 1 500 dental staff by 2010;

(f)   consumers contributed nearly $3.4 billion or 67 per cent of funding for dental services in the 2004-05 financial year, compared with only $953 million from the Government (19 per cent) and $701 million from private health insurance funds (14 per cent);

(g)   since 1999, there has been a 45 per cent increase in the price of basic dental services;

(h)   21 per cent of adults who are not eligible for public dental care avoided or delayed treatment because of the cost of basic dental care; and

(i)   in 2002, over a quarter of Australian adults experienced painful aching because of problems with their teeth, mouth or dentures and reported behaviour such as avoiding certain foods to cope.

(2)   Does the Government consider this situation satisfactory in health policy terms; if not, what efforts are being made at the federal and state government level to overcome these problems.

(3)   Has the Government: (a) considered the October 2006 proposal by ACOSS and the Australian Dental Association for the Commonwealth to provide people on concession cards with free basic costs of dental care every 2 years at an estimated cost of $160 million in the first year, rising to $800 million in the fifth year; and (b) had discussions with the states with regard to this proposal whereby Commonwealth funding could be contingent on the states making satisfactory progress on building services and meeting minimum standards in children’s dental services, preventive checks and emergency dental services; if not, why not.

Senator Santoro (Minister for Ageing) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:


(a)   As acknowledged in Australia’s National Oral Health Plan - Healthy Mouths Healthy Lives - the Commonwealth Government considers that low socio-economic status is associated with poor oral health.

(b)   The link between poor dental health, and tooth loss and gum disease, is well established.

(c)   The Government does not collect national statistics on the public dental services provided by the state and territory governments.

(d)   I note that this is an ACOSS estimate. The Government is not aware of any published figure to this effect.

(e)   This is consistent with the AIHW report, The dental labour force in Australia: the position and policy directions (2003). However, in 2004, the Government allocated 148 new dentistry and oral health places nationally commencing in 2005, growing to 405 places by 2009. In 2006, the Government also announced a further 60 additional places, growing to 164 by 2010.

(f)   This is consistent with the AIHW report, Health Expenditure Australia 2004-05.

(g)   The Government does not collect data on the cost of private dental services. Private dentists are free to set their own fees.

(h)   The Government is unable to determine how this number was derived and therefore cannot comment on its validity.

(i)   This is consistent with reported research as cited in Spencer (2004), Narrowing the inequality gap in oral health and dental care in Australia.

(2)   The states and territories are responsible for public dental services. The situation could be improved were the states and territories to fund services adequately. I am aware that there are presently lengthy reported waiting lists for some state and territory public dental programs. However, this situation could readily be changed if the states and territories chose to increase funding for these services. The Commonwealth Government has been willing to work with the states and territories on oral health matters. In November 2001, the Commonwealth Government agreed to participate in the National Advisory Committee on Oral Health under the auspices of the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council. The outcome of this process was the development of the National Oral Health Plan ‘Healthy Mouths Healthy Lives’, which was considered and endorsed by all Health Ministers on 29 July 2004. The National Oral Health Plan is a high level national framework aimed at setting an overall direction for oral health. The Commonwealth and all state and territory governments have agreed to take into account the plan when developing oral health services in their areas of responsibility.


(a)   Yes.

(b)     No. The responsibility for public dental services rests with the state and territory governments.