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Minister needs a history lesson on dental health.

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Shadow Minister for Health


Australians who can’t afford a visit to the dentist face longer waiting times for treatment because of a cold-hearted decision by the Howard Government in 1996 to axe funding for dental health treatment for those Australians most in need.

Last night on the Nine Network’s A Current Affair, Health Minister Patterson said:

“The Commonwealth and the States have various responsibilities… Public dental health services are the responsibility of the States… We don’t deliver direct dental health programmes.”

While John Howard’s Health Minister plays the blame game, it is worth reminding her what the Commonwealth Government can achieve in this area if it has a real commitment to dental health.

In 1996 the Howard Government scrapped Labor’s $100 million Commonwealth Dental Health Programme which provided dental care to those people who were losing their teeth because they couldn’t afford to go the dentist to get remedial treatment.

The Commonwealth Dental Health Programme, which commenced at the beginning of 1994, had the objective of improving the dental health of those Australians most in need, with an emphasis on prevention and early management of dental problems.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported in 1997 that, in the two years that the Programme operated, eligible Australians who received public-funded dental care under the Programme: • visited more frequently for dental care; • reported less frequent experience of toothaches; • received fewer extractions; and • were more satisfied with the dental care they received.

Most importantly, Australians eligible for the Commonwealth Dental Health Programme waited a shorter time for a check-up. Those waiting for 12 or more months decreased from 21.1 to 11.3 per cent, while those waiting for less than one month increased from 47.5 to 61.5 per cent.

Despite these successes, the Howard Government axed the Programme in 1996 and as a result, waiting lists for publicly funded dental treatment have grown longer. For those people in serious pain as a result of the inability to obtain dental treatment, it’s just not good enough.

The Senate Select Committee on Medicare is currently inquiring into the state of dental health care in Australia and will consider whether the extension of federal funding for dental health services could provide a more cost-effective health care system.

The Howard Government has never been serious about dental health. It’s a cop out for the Health Minister to point the finger elsewhere. The buck stops with her.

For further information contact:

Jamie Snashall on 0407 438 746 Wednesday 16 July 2003