Reporting season

Two new reports show the state of play for the nation’s oral health.

Two new reports released last week show demand for oral health services is outstripping supply, and that the cost to the economy of poor dental health amongst disadvantaged people sits at more than $1.3 billion.

The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare report, Oral health and dental care in Australia: key facts and figures 2011, summarises the most up-to-date information available in Australia today on the oral health and dental visiting of the Australian population. Data have been sourced from surveys managed by the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH) and administrative data sets managed by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 

This report summarises the most recent key findings on the state of oral health and dental care of the Australian population. It found that in in 2010, approximately 21 per cent of adults aged 65 and over were edentulous (without natural teeth), females having slightly higher rates of edentulism (25 per cent) than males (17 per cent). Of those aged 65 and over with natural teeth (dentate), nearly half (47 per cent) wore dentures.

In 2010, around 15 per cent of adults reported experiencing toothache in the previous 12 months, and 25 per cent reported feeling uncomfortable about their dental appearance. A higher proportion of adults aged 45–64 felt uncomfortable about their dental appearance (29 per cent) than those aged 15–24 (19 per cent).

In 2010, 64 per cent of persons aged 5 and over visited a dentist in the previous year, ranging from 78 per cent in children aged 5–14, to 57 per cent in adults aged 25–44. Almost half (49 per cent) of adults aged over 18 had favourable visiting patterns.

The majority (54 per cent) of persons aged 5 and over had some level of private dental cover, with those living in Major cities (59 per cent) having higher rates of insurance than those in Inner regional (47 per cent) and Outer regional areas (46 per cent). Individuals with lower household incomes were less likely to have dental insurance than those in higher income households.

The vast majority (79 per cent) of adults with some level of insurance made co-contributions towards the cost of dental visits, and 9 per cent paid all their own expenses. Approximately 17 per cent of insured adults who were required to pay all of their dental expenses indicated that doing so caused a large financial burden.

In 2009–10 the total expenditure on dental services was $7,690 million, a 13 per cent increase from the previous year. The largest contribution to dental expenditure in 2009–10 was made by individuals, accounting for 61 per cent of the total dental expenditure.

The report said the capacity for the dental labour force to supply dental visits is expected to range between 33.0 and 40.1 million visits by 2020, compared to a projected demand for between 33.6 and 44.1 million visits.

Meanwhile, a report by the Brotherhood of St Laurence has found that millions of people are financially locked out of Australia’s expensive dental health system, undermining their capacity to gain and keep employment and at an annual cost to the economy of more than $1.3 billion,

The report, “End the Decay: The cost of poor dental health and what should be done about it”, analysed existing data to estimate the disease burden of untreated dental conditions – and the resulting economic burden. The report’s authors, Professor Jeff Richardson from Monash University and Bronwyn Richardson from Campbell Research and Consulting, found that the direct and indirect costs to the economy are significant. 

Among the report’s findings are:

  • The direct and indirect costs to the economy of poor dental health are between $1.3 billion and $2 billion annually.
  • Hospital admissions from dental conditions are the largest category of preventable acute hospital admissions, costing the health system $223 million each year.
  • At least 1 million work days and at least 600,000 school days are lost each year because of poor dental health costing the economy at least $660 million in lost productivity.
  • Children in the lowest socioeconomic areas had 70 per cent more decay in their teeth than children in the highest socioeconomic areas.
  • Adults on the lowest incomes were almost 60 times more likely to have no teeth than those on the highest incomes. While the prevalence of people without teeth has fall to almost zero (0.3 per cent) in the top 25 per cent of incomes, 17.3 per cent of adults in the lowest 25 per cent of incomes had no natural teeth.
  • Indigenous people were twice as likely to have untreated decay in comparison to non-indigenous people.
  • Nearly a quarter of adults report feeling self conscious or embarrassed because of oral health problems.


Mr Tony Nicholson, the Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, said that the costs of poor dental health were being borne by those least able to afford them.

“This report is valuable in terms of putting numbers on the economic costs and the disease burden, but in our line of work we see the direct impact on people’s lives. Poor dental health can cause pain that impairs eating and speaking and it can disfigure people’s faces, eroding their confidence, undermining their employability and excluding them from mainstream economic and social life.”

“Poor and missing teeth are a sign of poverty, and of social exclusion. In the next Budget, the Government has a historic opportunity to start fixing the dental health system. We urge the Government, the Greens and the Independents to consider the very high costs that are already being imposed on those least able to pay and to start developing a dental plan that works for these groups.” Mr Nicholson said.

Findings from the research report suggest that the costs of increasing spending on dental health would be substantially offset by productivity gains and a reduction in the costs of healthcare from preventable oral health conditions.


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  1. What a laod of crap. There are thousands of dental surgeries around Australia who are not busy and would dearly love more patients and work. Lets face it, even if the cost of dental treatment could be halved, people would still think that it was too expensive.Even if dentistry was free, you would still get a significant number of people who would avoid going to the dentist. Time to stop listening to the opinions of researchers who are totally out of touch with reality and who manipulate figures to suport their biased views.


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