Oral Health Alliance decries Sydney’s health divide

Residents of Western Sydney have little to smile about when it comes to oral health.

A lack of access to oral health services is contributing to poorer health of people living in Western Sydney compared to other Sydney siders, the NSW Oral Health alliance said this week. The unequal access to oral health services and workforce shortages are consistent with the findings of a new report by the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils which looked at GPs and hospital services.

NSW Oral Health Alliance spokesperson, Alison Peters, from NCOSS, said, “NSW public oral health waiting lists reveal an appalling gap in access to public dental care for people in Western Sydney. Whether you have healthy teeth and gums shouldn’t be determined by where you live or how much you earn.

“Oral health remains one of the areas of greatest inequity in NSW, yet we have one of the lowest per capita expenditure on public dental services of all states and territories.”

Sydney South West Local Health District (LHD) has the highest waiting list for public oral health services across the State. In March 2012, there were 23,835 people on the wait list, compared to just 4,323 people in Northern Sydney and 3,914 in Southern NSW.

Disadvantaged areas of Western Sydney also have fewer dentists than the Sydney metropolitan average. For instance, Blacktown has one of the lowest rates of practising dentists in NSW, at just 10.9 dentists per 100,000 residents. This compares to 155.4 dentists per 100,000 residents in the Upper North Shore.

Matthew Fisher, CEO of the Australian Dental Association (NSW Branch), said, “There is a need for significant enhancement of the NSW oral health workforce to address vacancy rates and maldistribution, particularly in the public sector, in order to increase service capacity.”

Fisher said, “We welcome the federal Government’s four year funding for public dental services in the 2012-13 Budget. However, this is only a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution to improve our public dental system.”

“The Commonwealth Government must commit to a long-term national oral health plan to build a universal access scheme in line with the recommendations of the National Dental Advisory Council”, said Ms Peters.

However, the Commonwealth has stated that any national scheme will not substitute adequate state resourcing. The NSW Oral Health Alliance is calling on the NSW Government to deliver its election commitment to prioritise dental reform and improve oral health in NSW.

“For too long political buck-passing between the State and Commonwealth has resulted in a chronically under-funded public dental system in NSW– with the biggest impact on those people who are already experiencing disadvantage and hardship”, said Ms Peters.


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