On 20 June, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek convened a Roundtable in Parliament House to report on progress with improving oral health services. The meeting was attended by representatives of a number of national bodies, including the NRHA.
The Minister referred to a report released on 17 June from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing, Bridging the Dental Gap: Report on the inquiry into adult dental services.
The Commonwealth has already committed $345m in additional funds over three years to the States' public dental services to reduce waiting lists. The agreements are flexible enough to encourage State-funded oral health services to be provided in Aboriginal Medical Services and aged care facilities.
The new Commonwealth-State National Partnership agreement for adult dental services under negotiation will make available an extra $1.3b over 4 years to States and Territories that maintain current rates of investment in their public dental systems, as announced in the 2013-14 Federal Budget.
Those at the meeting were able to discuss and clarify detailed arrangements for the Grow Up Smiling (GUS) program that starts on 1 January 2014. GUS will provide basic dental services capped at $1,000 over two years to children and teenagers in families receiving government benefits such as Family Tax Benefit A. Senator Jan McLucas, Minister for Human Services, also attended the meeting and confirmed the readiness of that Department for the work required to promote and successfully manage the new GUS scheme.
Families whose children are eligible for GUS will receive information from DHS about the scheme. Dentists and their team members will be kept closely informed of eligibility and processing issues. The NRHA is keen to ensure that local health professionals in rural and remote communities where dentists are short are also well informed about the scheme.
There was a strong understanding of the geographical dimensions of the current problem, with people in small towns and remote areas being among the most disadvantaged due to maldistribution of dentists and oral health care teams. The improved situation envisaged, although led by public dollars, will involve both the public sector and private dentists. And it will also involve the full team: dentists, therapists and hygienists. Starting immediately, and aimed at medium term improvements, oral health promotion will be critical.
The organisations present at the meeting included Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Australian Dental Association, the Consumers Health Forum, the Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists Association, the Dental Hygienists' Association and the NRHA.
Those at the meeting agreed to work together by all possible means to encourage States and Territories to increase their public health dental efforts by at least the amounts of the extra funds being provided by the Commonwealth. One of the most urgent outcomes will be oral health care for those who currently have none. In the medium term, led by the investment in children’s oral health through GUS, the Australian population will have less caries and healthier teeth and mouths.