The Australian Government is consulting with interested parties about the details of its child dental health program Grow Up Smiling (GUS). GUS will begin on 1 January 2014 and will replace the Medicare Teen Dental Health Plan.
The Alliance wants to be sure that the particular characteristics of rural and remote areas are recognised in the way GUS is designed, funded and managed.
In the medium term it is to be hoped that GUS is the next step towards oral health care from birth to death for all Australians, irrespective of their location and financial means. Oral care ought to be part of an integrated health care system, founded on true primary health care. Such an approach would include relevant activity in preschools and schools, health promotion initiatives such as fluoridation of water, targeted help for people in particular need and oral health awareness in initiatives relating to food, exercise and health conditions prejudicial to good oral health.
The primary health care approach would also include programs to provide access to quality oral health services – primary care’s contribution to good oral health. Currently one of the greatest challenges to effective roll-out of GUS to infants and children in rural and remote areas is poor access there to oral health care professionals, particularly dentists and dental specialists.
Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that people in remote and very remote areas have less than half as many FTE dentists per 100,000 population as those in the cities. Opportunities for collaboration between GUS and in-hospital care must be explored and developed. Reimbursing travel costs for eligible country children and their family or carer would assist in ensuring entitlements to basic dental care despite isolation from such services.
The Alliance would like to see greater recognition in the scheme of the role that oral health practitioners play in oral hygiene and prevention. Preventive services benefit the individual and the wider society by maintaining health and wellbeing and reducing the demand for costly treatments.