Dental reform must start now - and include rural workforce

29 February 2012

People in rural and remote Australia will welcome the fact that the report from the National Advisory Council on Dental Health confirms what many of them know: rural and remote residents and lower income groups carry the greatest burden when it comes to poor oral health.

The National Rural Health Alliance - the peak non-government organisation for rural and remote health, comprised of 33 national bodies - has been advising on the need for workforce improvements as a necessary first step towards better dental care in rural and remote areas.

“It is critical that work begins with the Budget in May to improve the distribution of dentists and oral therapists and hygienists in rural and remote areas,” according to Gordon Gregory, Executive Director of the NRHA.

This needs to start with support for oral health students from rural areas, access to rural and regional training, and support for rural infrastructure. For practising dental clinicians, HECs reimbursement and incentives should be considered. In locations where no resident dental services can be supported, special fly-in, fly-out dental services could be utilised, based on what has been learned from the Medical Specialist Outreach program.

The Alliance anticipates that the Foundation Year for dental graduates could be expanded and targeted to rural and remote areas, and the scope of practice of oral therapists could be extended.

The dental inequalities have been getting worse. An AIHW report of 2011 shows that between 1994 and 2008 people on low incomes, those who live in rural areas and those without dental insurance did not have the regular check-ups that their high-income urban counterparts benefited from.

“We accept that there will be a staged approach towards a universal system for dental care, and that children and low income adults will be targeted first," Mr Gregory said. “But we expect that the Government will keep in mind that, given the poor distribution of the oral health workforce, children and people on low income in rural and remote areas are in very particular need.”

Media Enquiries: 

Gordon Gregory - Executive Director: 02 6285 4660