Dentists call for children’s dental benefits scheme to be expanded to include older Australians

Amid poor dental hygiene and rates of oral disease in Australians and the rising cost of living, dentists and advocates are calling for child benefits to be extended to the elderly.

Key Points:

The dental industry says subsidies must be expanded if Australians’ poor oral hygiene is to be tackledFamilies with Family Tax Benefit A can access benefits of up to $1,026 a year, for two years, for basic dentistry.In a survey of 1,000 Australians aged 75 and over, 18% said they would struggle to pay a $200 bill.

A regional Victorian dentist and national peak dental body welcome the four-year extension of the Children’s Dental Benefit Scheme, available to families on Family Tax Benefit A, to help children in the dental chair dentist

But they want to see it extended to senior Australians.

“We know that the Royal Commission in Aged Care Safety and Quality a few years ago recommended a core benefits scheme for seniors, which is essentially the children’s dental benefits schedule for older adults,” said Matt Hopcraft, chief executive of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Dental Association.

“We think this is a really key part of what we want to see moving forward so that older Australians also have access to dental care.”

Matt Hopcraft says the benefit scheme should be extended to senior Australians and all surgeries for children.ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

The Council on Aging supports the call for a dental benefits scheme for older people and wants the recommendations of the royal commission into care for older people to be implemented.

“The royal commission … highlighted countless stories of aged care residents suffering pain and discomfort, poor nutrition and an inability to access timely and affordable dental care,” said its policy and advocacy manager , Ben Rogers.

The Council of the Aging said last year’s data showed dental conditions alone were the second biggest cause of potentially avoidable hospital admissions in Victoria.

“Elderly people accounted for a third of those presentations. Older Victorians have to wait to access dental care,” Rogers said.

The 2017-18 National Adult and Oral Health Survey found three in five older Australians had visited the dentist in the past 12 months.

However, it found that 22% of 1,000 people aged 75 and over avoided or delayed dental care because of cost, and 18% said they would struggle to pay a $200 bill.

Helping the hip pocket

The Children’s Dental Benefit Scheme means children up to 17 who are covered by Family Tax Benefit can now access up to $1,026 in benefits, over two years, for basic dental services.

“This scheme prevents bigger problems in the future. It is preventative in nature and covering all children would be in their best interest,” Kennington Dental principal dentist Sathie Naidoo said.

A dentist stands in front of a dentist's chair. Sathie Naidoo says subsidizing children’s dental benefits helps improve preventative measures against oral disease.ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

“The scheme has one limitation, which is the exclusion of general anaesthetic, but other than that it’s a brilliant, brilliant scheme.

“It’s something that’s absolutely necessary and should be extended to all children.”

The Australian Dental Association said one in three children had decay in their baby teeth by age five to six, and two in five children had decay in their adult teeth by age 12 to 14.

Dr Naidoo and the association want the government to expand the children’s scheme to include general anesthesia for more complex surgeries.

Family Tax Benefit data from September last year showed that in Bendigo, in regional Victoria, 9,354 families would be covered by the scheme, with about 17,736 children eligible.

Government intervention

The plan has received bipartisan support, and the Commonwealth has spent nearly $440 million since 2014 to provide about 7.6 million dental services to 900,000 children in partnership with states and territories.

A short-haired woman wearing a red shirt and a black top and a large necklace gestures as she talks to the camera on a street. Lisa Chesters says the Family Dental Benefits Program grant for families is the difference between young Australians getting regular dental checkups and not.ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

Federal MP Lisa Chesters said as Australian families battled the rising cost of living, the four-year extension of the Child Benefit Dental Plan meant basic dental care would not be neglected due to family finances.

“By improving access to dental services for children, the program helps address declining oral health and puts children on a path to better health throughout their lives,” he said.

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