It is good to hear that the head of the dental body in Australia thinks that we have real problems with access to affordable dental care in this country. Dr Stephen Liew, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) president is coming out firing.

“The Albanese Government came to power on promises of fixing access to dentistry so more people had access to more services,” Dr Liew said. “Before they were elected, Labor said that their goal was to ‘provide universal access to affordable dental services for all Australians, and an elected Labor Government will engage a consultative process with all relevant stakeholders to begin this work.’ “Yet 17 months later absolutely nothing has happened. The ADA and the nation’s dentists couldn’t be more disappointed and frustrated. Our patience and that of millions of long-suffering Australians, is wearing thin.”
– Bite Magazine 

Liew addressed a Senate Inquiry into dental access in October 2023. The ADA is pushing for better oral care for those Australians struggling to afford such services. Right now we are in the grip of a fierce cost of living crisis with high inflation stripping ordinary Australians of their savings. If there has ever been a better time to help those in economic need I can’t imagine it. Introducing subsidised dental care for more poor Australians would not be a direct inflationary measure.

ADA Demands Better Dental Care Support For Needy Australians

Treasury estimates that it would cost around $78 billion per decade to include dental into Medicare and that it is considered too expensive by governments. Australia is, however, happy to spend nearly $400 billion on submarines over several decades. The illusory spectre of the yellow peril wins out in any war over what we value most. Imagine how healthy and well educated we all could be if we stopped wasting vast amounts of money on military deterrents, which thankfully hardly ever get used for their stated purposes.

Australian Dental Association Seeks Expansion Of Dental Schemes

The ADA want the expansion of dental schemes to help those suffering the most from missing out on dental care due to the current non-affordability. Kids under 18 whose parents receive a Commonwealth benefit currently qualify for $1056 in dental treatment every 2 years. The ADA want the scheme expanded to include Indigenous Australians, those with a disability, and those on a low income. Liew would like to know what is the hold up. Especially, as Michelle Bullock the RBA governor is taking potshots at dentists for contributing to sticky high inflation in our economy by raising their charges.

“Some Australians, including elderly people in residential care and people with disabilities, have more chance of flying to the moon than being able to access dental care, a Senate inquiry has been told. The inquiry has also been advised that dedicated funding for dental services should be provided to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.”

Australia Has Under-Invested In Dental Care

It has always been a great mystery to me why teeth were not considered a part of the human body and Medicare, when it was originally started back in the 1970’s. It is part and parcel of the old Australian story. That story is about always trying to do things on the cheap. I was reading a recent book by author David Marr about life in the colonies back in the 18C. Britain began this trend of underinvesting in Australia and doing things on the cheap. Australians are infamous around the globe for invariably going for the cheaper option every time. The upshot of this, as history has taught us, is that you end up paying much more when you don’t do things properly in the first place. Consider all the collective suffering of generations of Australians with bad teeth and their loss of quality of life. Calculate the cost of lost productivity due to tooth ache and dental issues. Add up all of this in dollar terms and you would be looking at a figure in the many billions of dollars, perhaps hundreds of billions over the decades.

Oral Care A Black Hole In Medicare

Australia is supposedly a wealthy nation and yet we allow our working poor and elderly to suffer in silence. Too ashamed to open their mouths to smile. Too benighted by tooth decay to eat a meal that requires chewing. Do you know what that feels like? How it robs one of vigour. How it steals away your dignity and self-respect. Meanwhile, the wealthy in our 2 speed economy are about to get their stage 3 tax cuts, which will cost $313 billion over a decade. Hey, we could afford to include dental in Medicare if we scrapped or amended these overly generous tax breaks to the already well off within our community. We live in crazy and irrational worlds when you think about where we spend our taxes and money in this country. Politics blights our clear thinking on issues like fairness and taking care of the needy and vulnerable. Australia has become a much more self-centred nation, as we have been encouraged to put ourselves first in the queue. Back in the day, when the divide between the haves and have nots was not so great, we were a much more considerate and generous population. Populism has successfully appealed to our worst selves.

ADA Wants Greater Oral Care Coverage For Australians

The ADA wants more Australians to be able to see the dentist and have their oral care issues fixed. It wants the Australian federal government to extend welfare schemes to include those groups currently going without. The elderly, the poor, Indigenous Australians, and disabled people. It is really a disgrace that this has not already happened under previous governments. It is an ideological and political battle involving private wealth and the public good. Have a think about whether you think it is morally sound for wealthy Australians to sock more money away when needy Aussies are doing it tough? Do we really want more billionaires at the expense of not lifting up thousands of suffering fellow citizens?

Australians Want Dental To Be Part Of Medicare

I think that what all Australians want is for dental care to become part of Medicare, as it should have been in the first place. We have all paid the high cost for penny pinching governments and greedy private wealth concerns. Imagine the world class dental care we have in Australia being enjoyed by all Australians and not just the wealthy. Envision the lift in wellbeing and the increased productivity that would spur on. If you look after the people they will look after the economy. Have a look at the Scandinavian countries if you want proof of this. These northern European nations punch beyond their weight, as they provide far more socialised care for their citizens and they reap the economic rewards. They consistently outrank Australia on wellbeing rankings, education rankings, and productivity graphs.

“Healthcare in Denmark is universal. Visits to the doctor’s office, emergency wards, and public hospitals are free to everyone covered by the Danish health insurance system. Dental care, chiropractic treatments, and medical prescriptions are subsidized, while children under 18 are entitled to free visits to the dentist.”

It’s long overdue for dental to become part of Medicare. But will it remain a promise never kept by politicians? We must remember which politicians break their promises when the next election is held.

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