The oral health of people in rural and remote Australia is worse than that of urban people, with about half the level of access to dentists as in the cities. The annual rural underspend on primary care of more than $2 billion is partly due to poor access to dentists. Untreated dental problems reduce people’s ability to eat nutritious food, socialise with confidence and gain education and employment.
For these reasons the rural health workforce section of the Alliance's Election Charter (www.ruralhealth.org.au/advocacy/election) focuses on dental health professionals in particular. It calls for strong bi-partisan support for the National Partnership Agreements on public dental health services and urges Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments to progress developments to help provide equitable and accessible oral health services for people in rural and remote areas.
For initiatives relating to child and adult oral health to succeed in rural and remote areas it is essential that the measures in place to redistribute the oral health workforce are effective and quickly build parity in access to private and public oral health services for country people. Rural oral health teams are needed for preventive oral health as well as restorative dentistry.
Given their higher rates of decayed, missing and filled teeth, country people must receive the services they need as a matter of urgency. New generations of country people should not be expected to accept worse health outcomes than those people who are born and raised in the city. Fluoridation should be strongly supported, particularly in Indigenous communities.
Reimbursing travel costs for eligible country children and their family would assist in ensuring entitlements to basic dental care despite isolation from such services.
Dental Health Week (5-11 August) is an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining good oral health and there is much that individuals can do. The Australian Dental Association (ADA) reminds us that water is always a better option than soft drink, cordial or fruit juices. People in rural and remote areas have higher rates of smoking and risky drinking and these increase the risk of oral cancers.
The Department of Health and Ageing’s national tobacco campaign has helpful information for quitting smoking: http://www.quitnow.gov.au/ and the following link is useful for limiting risky drinking of alcohol: http://www.drinkingnightmare.gov.au
The ADA has useful information on its website www.dentalhealthweek.com.au and more information about oral health in rural and remote areas can be found on the Alliance’s website at www.oralhealth.org.au
Gordon Gregory - Executive Director: 02 6285 4660