Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Shadow Minister discusses access to dental services.

Download PDFDownload PDF


Shadow Minister for Health Manager of Opposition Business


ISSUES: Dental

LUKE: Well the result of a recent Newspoll has revealed that 90 per cent of those who were surveyed believe that dental care should be covered by Medicare. And it seems that many people just have to suffer with chronic dental problems because they simply cannot afford to get their teeth fixed.

Now I will ask you the question: do you think Medicare should cover dental care? I just don’t understand. Why are dental problems regarded as different to any other medical complaints? What do you think?

The Federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott thinks it is a problem for the States to solve. That dental care is a State problem not a Federal problem.

On the line is the Federal Shadow Health Minister, Julia Gillard. Julia, good morning.

JULIA: Good morning.

LUKE: I just wonder how many parents are listening to us who are not getting their kids off to a dentist four times a year because it just costs too much. How many people are putting up with a toothache because it’s an astronomical cost? What do you reckon?

JULIA: Tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands. One of the things I get to do in my job is travel round the country talking to people about health issues. And I literally get stopped in the street by people who are on public dental waiting lists, waiting for care and it is ruining their lives in the meantime. I mean, I think we all know there is nothing worse than having something wrong with your mouth and it does affect the rest of your health.

LUKE: Yeah, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a doctor. He was telling me that if you have a gum disease or any form of tooth decay they often won’t perform surgery were you need a general anaesthetic because of infection.

JULIA: That’s true.

LUKE: Including heart surgery.

JULIA: That’s right. One of the things that will always stay with me is having met a doctor in Bega, who told me that the single biggest reason she was prescribing antibiotics was to people who were on dental waiting lists because of the infections in their mouths.

So it is just crazy isn’t it from the point of view of the people involved it is dreadful but also from the point of view of the health system it is obviously ridiculous to have people waiting for care and be pumping antibiotics into them for a couple of years maybe even three or four years, in the mean time.

LUKE: Can you give me a bit of history on this Julia. I am speaking with Julia Gillard the Shadow Health Minister about dental care in New South Wales. Why is dental care a State responsibility and not a Federal responsibility?

JULIA: The Labor Government used to take responsibility for dental care, it used to share it with the States. It used to have a thing called the Commonwealth Dental Health Program that put $100 million a year into dental care.

One of the first things the Howard Government did when it came to office in 1996 was abolish that program. Now that was justified at the time on cost cutting grounds but ever since when people have asked the Howard Government or campaigned to

have the Howard Government re-introduce such a program they simply claim that the national government has got no responsibility for dental care.

Now that is just not constitutionally right, if you get out your constitution it clearly says medical and dental is one of the responsibilities of the Commonwealth. But more than that, it doesn’t make any sense not to have national leadership on such a big issue.

LUKE: You know, I know it is all a cost and I realise you have got to level out somewhere but I would even go for anyone say 18 and under getting free dental care and aged pensioners free dental care. I mean, fancy putting up with chronic pain and let’s face it, the pain you can suffer can be some of the most dreadful, dreadful pain you will ever experience, and people are putting up with it because they can’t afford to go to a dentist.

JULIA: I agree with that. What we have in this country at the moment is State run public dental programs and they are very focused on kids and on older Australians, particularly pensioners. But those dental programs, even with increasing investment

from State Labor Governments can’t keep pace with demand. The best estimates seem to be we have got at least 650,000 Australians on dental queues, many of them for three or four years. At the last election, Federal Labor had a policy to put $300 million into dental care and that would have let us get those waiting lists down [break in transmission] get those people off a waiting list and into a dentists chair and it would have been enough too to get those services in front. At the moment they are so far behind they are always struggling with emergency cases were we really need to make enough of an investment so they can move from that to really being in the prevention and restoration business.

LUKE: Well this is my point, Julia. You see if you could spend more time on preventative measures it is going to save us a fortune down the track isn’t it?

JULIA: It is, absolutely. If you could get in early, checking peoples teeth…

LUKE: Absolutely.

JULIA: That is going to make a big difference. People are going to keep their teeth, which is important to their general health.

LUKE: Especially with kids, I mean it is just ludicrous, I appreciate your time. The board is starting to light up I will let you know the result of this morning’s conversation.

JULIA: Thank you very much.

LUKE: Julia Gillard the Shadow Health Minister.