CDBS: There for the taking

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Child Dental Benefits Schedule take-up
Photo: tinna2727 – 123RF

If the Child Dental Benefit Schedule is such a great initiative supporting children’s dental wellbeing, why are only one third of eligible Australians using it? By John Burfitt

Figures for the uptake of the Medicare-funded Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS) are worrying low. According to the Australian Dental Association NSW Branch, only 37.9 per cent of eligible Australian parents are accessing the scheme which offers Medicare-funded dental health care to children aged 17 years and under, to the value of $1052 every two years. The scheme, which was established in 2014, pays for such treatments as general check-ups, X-rays, cleaning, fillings, and extractions.

And yet, just as the scheme is not being utilised by over 60 per cent of those eligible, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ‘Oral health and dental care in Australia’ report recorded 30,000 potentially preventive hospitalisations for dental conditions among Aussie children aged 14 years and under during 2020-21. That figure was an increase of almost one third over the previous 12 months of 2019-20.

“What all these figures tells us about dentistry right now is there is a major disconnect going on, and the consequences of that within the community is troubling,” Dr Dominic Aouad, ADA NSW president says.

“There has long been the belief that many people do not take their children to the dentist because they think it is too expensive, and yet we have this scheme that offers free dental support and the majority of those who are entitled to it are not using it.”

Dr Aouad explains the scheme is means tested and widely available through the Family Tax Benefit A listing through Medicare. “There are conditions, but the threshold is quite high so this is something many parents should be speaking to Medicare about as a lot would be surprised they are entitled to it.

“And data from the ADA shows that nearly every practice in Australia offers this service, so it is not something that is problematic to access.”

Even so, the reality is the CDBS seems to have become one of the dental profession’s best kept secrets. With the Federal Government having committed to continuing the scheme, Dr Aouad says something needs to change in the way it is promoted.

There has long been the belief that many people do not take their children to the dentist because they think it is too expensive, and yet we have this scheme that offers free dental support and the majority of those who are entitled to it are not using it.

Dr Dominic Aouad, president, ADA NSW 

“I believe the Federal Government—both the current one and the past one—failed in promoting this scheme and making regular Australian families aware they are eligible for all the benefits it provides.

“We all know prevention is better than a cure, and getting kids into the dentist as early as possible is the best way to set them up for a good approach to oral heath.”

Clinical Professor Alexander Holden, head of Specialist Services at the Sydney Dental Hospital, agrees the Federal Government’s Department of Health needs to do more to promote the service.

“This is an opportunity to have people who would not otherwise go to the dentist realise this scheme is available and they could be getting it through Medicare,” he says.

Dr Holden believes there is an opportunity for GPs to play a key role in promoting the scheme, filling the information gap for those people who do not regularly see their dentist.

“If we could filter the message about this into general medical practice, that would make a huge difference, with many parents then making a dental booking for their children with confidence, knowing it’s all covered,” he says.

“But that’s a challenge as not too many GPs I know are talking to patients about oral health, but as they are on the frontline, they should be and so need to know the support this scheme can offer.”

Dr Holden says he has seen more interest in dental care among early childhood care health workers. “If we can get those people to help new parents set up good oral health check routines for their children, then that would be a big step forward.”

If we could filter the message about this into general medical practice, that would make a huge difference, with many parents then making a dental booking for their children with confidence, knowing it’s all covered. But that’s a challenge as not too many GPs I know are talking to patients about oral health.

Professor Alexander Holden, Sydney Dental Hospital

Dr Harleen Kumar, the head of Department of Paediatric Dentistry at the Sydney Dental Hospital, admits many of the patients she deals with tell her they have never even heard of the scheme.

“All parents and carers we see are then presented with an information page introducing them to the scheme,” she says. “For the most part, the population will be more than happy to accept dental care that doesn’t pinch the pocket.”

The major potential of the scheme to make an impact in health outcomes should not be underestimated, Dr Kumar adds. 

“Early intervention plays a significant role in both prevention and minimising the amount of treatment required. A regular dentist visit which is covered by the scheme would mean cavities are picked up earlier and arrested using minimal intervention methods.” 

All three doctors support the call by ADA NSW for better promotion of the scheme. ADA NSW is working, in particular, with multicultural communities throughout western Sydney. There’s also been a recommendation that the Federal Department of Health present regular information updates about the scheme in major hospitals, community health centres and elsewhere. 

Dentists are also being encouraged to inform patients, if not personally, then via updates and reminders in e-newsletters, on websites and other social media, and on the noticeboard in dental waiting rooms.

“This is one we all need to play a role in, as dentists are not just technicians working within people’s mouths,” Dr Aouad says. “We are professionals who are also health advocates, and we should be aiming to decrease the burden of disease utilising the available support systems. 

“The ADA NSW will continue to focus on this by promoting it to our diverse communities, and the ADA nationally is also looking at rolling out more information, as this scheme is too valuable to let go to waste.” 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Bite Magazine, could we ask why oral health therapists/dental hygienists/dental therapists were not mentioned in this article at all?

    • Hi Sarah, the main focus of the article is investigating why two-thirds of parents aren’t taking advantage of the Child Dental Benefit scheme. While the child’s family and the whole dental team is vital for taking care of the oral health needs of kids, this article is asking whether more needs to be done to tell people about it.

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