Poor and disadvantaged Victorians are losing their teeth after long delays to see public dentists, as waiting lists for state services blow out.
Dentists recommend that people get a check up at least once every year or more regularly if they are at higher risk of decay or gum disease.
But if you are pensioner, health card holder or refugee living in Victoria you can expect to wait an average of 32.7 months in-between visits, equivalent to almost three years.
People were on the list for about a year on average in 2014-15. But by September 2018 that had grown to 20.7 months.
Adding to delays, ADAVB chief executive Associate Professor Matthew Hopcraft said if a person had already seen a public dentist, they had to wait another year before they could be placed back on the waiting list– meaning the time between visits was a year longer than reflected in the official figures.
“The professional recommendation is that you want people seen within six to 12 months, depending on their risk profile,” he said.
“You certainly wouldn’t leave it more than two years as a general rule – and the people on these waiting lists are those who are more likely to be of high risk of dental disease.”
While people are able to access emergency care if they develop pain or an urgent issue, public dentists say that by the time this happens it’s often too late to fix it as decay or other problems have progressed too far.
One dentist working in Melbourne, who has a wait list of about 20 months at his clinic, said some of the most upsetting cases he saw were younger people in their 20s or 30s who required their teeth removed.
“The ones that stand out are the ones that have been on a waiting list for a long period of time and we have to make the call to take out multiple teeth or take out all the teeth,” he said.
The state and federal governments continue to blame each other for ballooning Victorian wait lists.
A spokesman for Victoria’s acting Health Minister Martin Foley slammed the federal government for its cuts to a dental funding partnership, while a spokeswoman for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Commonwealth had provided millions despite dental being primarily a state responsibility.
Associate Professor Hopcraft said while he agreed public dental had traditionally been run by the states, the ADAVB was also demanding the federal government contribute more.
The ADAVB has estimated a funding injection of $40 million is needed each year for the next five years to double the number of public patients being treated each year.
In an election promise, the Andrews government promised to fund dental care vans providing free check-ups and procedures to every state school student, but Associate Professor Hopcraft said he was yet to be convinced the plan would free up capacity in the wider public system within coming years.