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Dental Care in Australia: An Essential Investment in Good Health

Australia isn’t a cheap place to live. That’s no surprise. It has the 16th highest cost of living in the world, with an average weekly expenditure of approximately $2,200 per household.

Prescription drugs in Australia cost 3.7 times more than the global benchmark, almost twice the price of those in the United Kingdom. Even cows are expensive Down Under – Australian slaughter cattle are now officially the most expensive among major beef exporting countries in the world.

One of the most expensive commodities in Australia is automobiles. Aussies spend an average of $40,128 on new cars. Due to an avoidance of public transport combined with new-car stock shortages, they’re paying almost 40 percent more for used cars now than in pre-pandemic 2019.

Even with these high prices, there are roughly 17,158,195 cars in Australia, with 92.5 percent of households having access to one. It seems a little untenable, then, that many Australians cite cost as the primary reason for delaying dental care or foregoing it altogether.

Dental Dilemmas

According to a report by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW):

  • More than 50 percent of Australians without dental care health insurance are postponing or skipping treatment because of the cost.
  • One-quarter of the 12.3 million people who have dental insurance have also delayed or avoided the dentist because of the out-of-pocket fees.
  • Around 4 in 10 (39 percent) of people aged 15 years and over avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to cost.
  • People who usually visit the dentist for a problem (58 percent) were more than twice as likely as those who usually visit for a check-up (27 percent) to avoid or delay visiting a dentist due to cost.
  • Around 25 percent of dentate adults aged 15 years and over who visited a dentist in the last 12 months reported that cost prevented recommended dental treatment.

This lack of routine dental care might not be so problematic if not for the state of dental health for numerous Aussies. The AIHW notes that a quarter of people with access to public dental care do not have the minimum amount of teeth needed for their mouths to function efficiently, and one-third of Australians eligible for public dentistry avoid food due to dental problems. Approximately 25 percent of these Australians have fewer than 21 of 32 teeth in an adult mouth, and one in 25 individuals aged 15 and over have no natural teeth left.

This issue isn’t improving, either. As reported by the Australian Dental Association (ADA) Oral Health Tracker, less than half of adults surveyed had visited a dentist for a check-up in the last 12 months, a drop of 6.7 percent since 2018. The number of adults with untreated and potentially painful tooth decay has increased sizably, from a quarter of adults to around one-third. Overall, the estimated avoidable costs of poor oral health to Australia exceed $818 million annually.

Challenges to Care

Another reason some Australians balk at paying for dental care is that dentists are free to set their own fees. There are absolutely no standard fees for services provided by dental professionals on the continent and no legislation that forces these practitioners to notify patients in advance of fees to treatment and services. This is different from medical services covered by Medicare, which have prescribed rebates and for which the Australian Medical Association (AMA) provides its members with recommended fees.

Data from the ADA’s 2019 Survey of Dental Fees shows that the price for a comprehensive oral exam is anywhere from $49-$90, charges for a simple (non-surgical) tooth extraction range from $144-$280, and a one-surface filling on an anterior tooth costs between $110-$215. The average cost for a full crown (veneer) is $1573 but ranges from $950-$2,000. As we mentioned in a recent article here on LinkedIn, even with the Australian government’s commitment to doubling its investment in the public dental program to AUD5.0 billion, routine care is still unattainable for many residents.

Those Aussies who are eligible and wish to procure treatment through public dental services face extremely long waitlists. Only about 20 percent of individuals eligible for public dental coverage are able to receive dental care in Australia, and many states have waiting lists of well over a year for these services. Roughly 25 percent of residents in South Australia, 17 percent in Tasmania and Victoria, 16 percent in Western Australia and Queensland wait more than one year for specialist dentist procedures (root canals, fillings, tooth extractions) performed through public dental services.

Yet one more obstacle Australians face in receiving proper dental care is the lack of government funding sufficient for a good public system. Residents contribute more than half of the non-government funding for healthcare. In fact, Australia has the third-highest reliance on individual health care contributions, and almost half of the continent’s residents buy complementary and supplementary coverage for private hospital care, dental treatment, and other healthcare services.

Another point mentioned in our recent LinkedIn article is that although Australia offers both public and private dental services, 20 percent of residents’ out-of-pocket payments go toward dental care. Half of all Australians claim for dental services through a health fund, but many are unable to avoid out-of-pocket contributions to the non-hospital services and goods, including the majority of dental services, that Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) do not cover.

Shifting Patients’ Perceptions

In order for this trend of avoidance of dental care to shift, Australians will most likely have to find a way to procure treatment and routine maintenance through dentists who are transparent with estimated out-of-pocket (OOP) costs. They need to be able to more easily and accurately compare the prices and fees of various treatments and procedures before visiting a dentist, not after receiving a hefty bill that causes them to further avoid dental care.

Similarly, Australians must be educated about the importance of routine dental care and the problems that often arise when it is neglected. An expensive vehicle might enable a resident to travel to and from work and drive to the grocery store and other places, but a full set of healthy teeth is an essential part of an individual’s overall good health and self-esteem. An investment in dental care is an investment in an individual’s well-being throughout his or her lifetime.

At AirSmile, our goal is to ensure that all Australians have access to affordable dental care and aren’t hit with surprise medical bills. We want to eliminate any barriers that hold individuals back from having the healthy smile they deserve.

Our platform provides patients with an unbiased free digital tool to compare dentists and procure instant quotes on expected or existing treatment proposals. It offers them access to a large network of dentists while giving them enough time to digest and accept costs. In addition, by booking their dental appointment online and uploading any pertinent medical records, patients provide their selected dental professional with the resources needed to provide high-quality care.

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Heath Fraser

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Compare quotes, manage your appointments, store dental records, and more. For people who want better dental.
dentist login on airsmile

DENTIST LOGIN

Everything you need to enhance practice efficiency. For clinics that want to offer better dental.