ADA gives budget a tick

ADA President Dr Shane Fryer

The Australian Dental Association Inc. (ADA) has welcomed the Australian Government’s announcement to provide over $500 million expenditure for dental care over the next four years. However, it cautions that these initiatives alone will not redress the extent of oral health disadvantage that exists across Australia. And a newspaper is reporting that some initiatives are under threat anyway, with the Greens allegedly threatening to block the closure of the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme as they see it as the first step toward universal dental healthcare.

“What has been outlined is a fraction of what is needed to address Australia’s dental health shortfalls. However it does create a solid foundation for the ongoing improvement of the oral health of Australia’s disadvantaged,” stated ADA President, Dr Shane Fryer. “The provision of funding to bolster the public dental services will help to reduce the waiting lists that cause some Australians to wait years for access to a dentist. However, with 85 per cent of dentists in private practice, the Australian Government will need to look at a range of measures to allow patients to access services outside the public system.”

Dr Fryer said that improvements in infrastructure and the employment of more dentists and other dental practitioners in this sector will hopefully permit those Australians on waiting lists to access dentists in a more timely fashion.

With the anticipated closure of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, the ADA wants the Australian Government to replace it with a scheme based on the principles of the ADA DentalAccess model. Under DentalAccess the same level of funding will be provided for any replacement scheme and will be means tested and target sectors of the community that suffer disadvantage.

However, the Australian newspaper has reported that the Greens plan to block moves to save $696 million in 2012-13 by shutting down the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. The Greens continue to block the axing of the scheme in the Senate and instead want to use the CDDS as the basis for their planned Medicare-funded dental scheme, Denticare.

Other aspects of the budget were welcomed by Dr Fryer, who said, “The ADA has long recognised the need for the provision of financial incentives to encourage dental professionals to work in rural and remote communities where there is a shortage of dentists. Health delivery in rural communities has its challenges. What has been proposed will hopefully provide dentists with the incentive to move to rural areas and if managed effectively, will serve rural Australia well.”

The investment in expanding the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program may be advantageous. This Program, introduced in last year’s Federal Budget is, as yet, untested with curricula etc. still in the planning stage. The inclusion of oral health therapists in the Program is untried. The ADA would caution the government to carefully examine the progress of the Program before expanding it too widely. The ADA has offered some support for the Program but has demanded that it be more than a recruitment drive for rural dentists and dental practitioners in the public sector.

“Overall, what has been announced will help meet some of the needs of Australia’s population that has suffered through lack of investment in dental health by governments. What has been announced is only a first step. To significantly improve Australia’s dental health, much more needs to be done and the ADA remains available to help governments improve on this position,” added Dr Fryer.


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