Senate Select Committee into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia

02 June 2023

Summary

Globally, untreated dental caries (tooth decay) in permanent teeth is the most common health condition, according to the Global Burden of Disease in 2019 and the most common chronic disease in Australia.5,6 The oral health of rural Australians continues to be poorer than those living in metropolitan areas.1 Furthermore, people living in rural areas are more likely to suffer from dental caries (tooth decay), visit the dentist less often and have poorer access to health services.

Oral health is fundamental to a person’s health, wellbeing and quality of life.7 Good oral health is important for a person to eat, speak and socialise.1 Poor oral health can lead to diseases such as tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke and can result in pain, disability and even death.5,8,9 Other consequences include time off work and school, and the cost of dental treatment.

There is a maldistribution and insufficient number of dental practitioners in rural Australia, with three times more dental practitioners in metropolitan regions than remote Australia.10 Australia’s National Oral Health Plan 2015–2024 titled ‘Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives’ identified people living in rural areas experience significant barriers to oral health care and have the greatest burden of oral health disease.11

The Alliance views the disparity in accessing oral health care for Australians living in rural areas as unacceptable and believes this needs to be addressed. The provision and access to dental care and services in Australia is important for a person’s overall health and wellbeing. Access to primary health care is a right that cannot be dismissed for these communities, and every effort needs to be made to achieve equitable health outcomes in the shorter term and more importantly in the longer term. This submission will examine the continued significant disparities in oral health for Australians living rurally compared to their counterparts in a metropolitan area.

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