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Thursday, 22 November 2012
Page: 9628

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (21:53): I rise to speak on the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012. It is interesting to look at the area of dental health in Australia. It is certainly an issue that has bedevilled governments over many years. The first real move to do something other than blame the states for not having enough funding to do anything about it was made by the then Minister for Health and Ageing Mr Tony Abbott when he established the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme.

Unfortunately, this government is now trying to dress up something which has been a failure in order to continue programs that assist people with dental problems as though it is a good thing. The first move in this area was to try to blacken the reputation of many dentists by attacking the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, which had been extremely successful. Eighty per cent of those using the scheme were people who held concession cards. The initial attempt by this government to blacken the reputations of dentists who had made administrative errors in claiming the rebates for the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, and to liken the scheme to some sort of dental treatment for millionaires, was complete nonsense and absolute rubbish, and it completely disparaged the work that was done by the Auditor-General and others to make the point that this was not the case. The government could not even inquire of Australia's dental prosthetists as to how their work came into the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, or educate them about it. The then minister, Minister Roxon, claimed that the government had done everything in its power to tell all those involved in the dental industry about the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme and how it worked, and according to her it was due to the stupidity and/or greed of those in the dental industry that it was not working.

The problem then was that the Australian Dental Prosthetists Association came out and made the valid point that no-one had ever undertaken any education or training with their membership around the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. Given that over 800 of the 1,100 dental prosthetists in Australia had provided services under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, it would seem reasonable that they might have been consulted and that Minister Roxon would have noticed and not claimed to have offered training to the entire dental industry when there was this very large component of it that had received no advice or information whatsoever from this government.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which is in my view a fantastic organisation that produces very valuable material, has done numerous studies into various aspects of oral health in Australia. One, which the AIHW fortuitously brought out on October 25 this year, looks at chronic conditions and oral health, which is exactly the area that Mr Abbott's scheme—the first scheme to look at dental health conditions—addressed. This report found that the impact of oral conditions on people with a chronic condition, including those with asthma, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, stroke, kidney disease, high blood pressure and depression, were more than twice that of people who did not have chronic disease. It showed that people with chronic disease experienced, at more than twice the rate of the average person: toothache; discomfort with the appearance of their teeth, mouth or dentures; avoidance of some foods due to problems with teeth, mouth or dentures; broken or chipped natural teeth; and pain in the face, jaw or temple or in front of the ear or in the ear due to teeth problems. The worst-affected people in terms of their oral health were those who had experienced strokes.

Again, people with chronic disease had far worse impairment as a result of oral problems, particularly in the loss of teeth. They had a much higher average number of missing teeth and they had inadequate dentition—that being fewer than 21 teeth—so that they were unable to avail themselves of a proper diet. It is a serious issue which needs to be properly addressed.

Debate interrupted.