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Don’t smile: Big gaps and costs mean Australians are avoiding dentists

During the pandemic people were eating more sugary snacks at home, and were avoiding the dentist because of fears about infection or concerns about the loss of income, an ADA spokesperson said.

The report’s data includes Medicare figures for 2017/2018. It found half of those aged 15 and over had seen a dentist in the previous 12 months. About 53 per cent of the population had insurance that included dental cover, with the rate of insurance higher for people who still had some or all of their natural teeth compared with those who had none.

AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster said without good oral health a person’s quality of life was compromised, resulting in pain, discomfort and embarrassment.

“For many Australians, cost may be a barrier to ensuring they receive the care they need, when they need it,’ he said.

Dr Webster said 52 per cent of people without insurance said they avoided the dentist because of the cost, compared with about 26 per cent of people with insurance.

The report didn’t include statistics during the pandemic. But it found many people who had avoided or delayed visiting a dentist in 2017-2018 because of cost had only visited in the past when they needed urgent treatment. People on low incomes were also much more likely to skip visits.

The report found significant gap fees for those with private insurance with rebates ranging from a low of $26 to a median of $800 to a high of $1989 for a crown.

Charges for removing a tooth ranged from $50 to $350. The benefits paid by the health funds also varied, from a low of $21 to a high of $172, while the gap ranged from zero to $278.

Preventative care, such as the removal of plaque, had no gap or attracted a median gap of $16 and a high of $82.

Who is paying for dental care?

  • The average person spent $424 at a dentist in 2017-2018;
  • The Australian government spent $1580 million on dental services in 2017-2018;
  • State governments spent $859 million, and 
  • Health funds spent $2,008 million on dental services.

Source: AIHW figures from 2017/18

Rachel David, the chief executive of Private Healthcare Australia, said there had been a significant cost shift by the federal government to health insurance companies.

The report finds the proportion of total expenditure on dental services by health insurance funds has increased from 14.0 per cent in 2009-10 to 19.1 per cent in 2017-18.

Dr David, whose organisation represents most private insurers, said 44 million services were subsidised or covered by private health funds.

Compared to the $1.5 billion in funding provided by the federal government, the report found private health insurance funding of dental services exceeded $2 billion.

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