Targeted investments needed to address oral health inequities

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oral health inequities
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The Australian Medical Association is calling on commonwealth, state and territory governments to collaborate and make targeted investments in programs that provide health care services based on need.

In its submission to a Senate inquiry into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia, the AMA said investment was needed to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have access to affordable and culturally appropriate oral health care.

AMA president Professor Steve Robson said achieving health equity required a broad focus beyond just treating disease and managing risk factors.

“There are many social inequalities within Australia that give rise to serious health issues among disadvantaged communities,” Professor Robson said.

“Poverty, discrimination and a worrying lack of appropriate health care all contribute to significant oral health inequities between First Nations peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.”

The AMA’s submission highlights the several oral health inequities Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face, including higher rates of dental disease, which can lead to other health issues such as heart disease and strokes.

Professor Robson said many Indigenous Australians relied on public oral health services, which were in short supply.

“Government funding for these services is typically provided in short term arrangements, meaning the availability of oral health care is often very limited for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Professor Robson said.

The AMA’s submission highlights recommendations made in the AMA’s 2019 Report Card on Indigenous Health, including that governments must commit to a minimum standard of 90 per cent population access to fluoridated water.

Increasing Indigenous Australian participation in the dental practitioner workforce, improving oral health awareness and collecting comprehensive oral health data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are among other recommendations emphasised in the submission.

The AMA is also calling for service models to be developed and implemented in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, while ensuring investments reflect the varying cost of providing services in remote areas.

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