Calls for government to fund oral health scheme

Friday, 22 March, 2024

Calls for government to fund oral health scheme

The Australian Dental Association NSW Branch (ADA NSW) is calling for more funding to improve the oral health of older Australians.

With more Australians living longer, the cost of poor oral health among older people has been estimated at more than $750 million per annum.1

Three years on from the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (RCACQS), ADA NSW is asking the government to provide funding in the upcoming Federal Budget to introduce a phased dental benefits scheme for older Australians.

In March 2021, several key dental and oral health recommendations were made in the RCACQS final report. At the time, ADA NSW welcomed the fact that the Royal Commission had successfully resulted in the inclusion of new oral health requirements in the draft Revised Aged Care Quality Standards.

However, very few recommendations, such as a Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme, have since been implemented.

“In line with the Federal ADA 2024–25 Budget submission, we at ADA NSW want to see more government investment in oral health care. We know this is offset by reductions in healthcare costs elsewhere,” said Dr Dominic Aouad, ADA NSW President.

For example, in 2021–22, about 78,800 hospitalisations for dental conditions could potentially have been prevented with earlier treatment. Those aged over 65 years accounted for about 13,791 potentially preventable hospitalisations due to dental conditions in 2021–2023. The 2024–25 Budget submission made by the Federal ADA focuses on opportunities to:

  • create a senior dental benefit scheme;
  • enhance the child dental benefit scheme;
  • adjust public dental services for adults’ funding arrangements;
  • consider the introduction of health savings accounts.

“We want to ensure the recommended revised Standards from the Royal Commission findings in 2021 will lead to greater improvements in oral health including investment in seniors.

“In its submissions to the Royal Commission, the ADA outlined the need for an SDBS and its benefits relative to other models. Now is the time to put money behind this scheme,” Aouad said.

Key features of the SDBS would include:

  • Provide individual aged care residents with access to oral and dental care up to set limits. The SDBS should be established under the Dental Benefits Act 2008 so that rules existing under the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS) can be applied. Public and private dental service providers are familiar with the requirements of the CDBS and could therefore introduce services to this new cohort efficiently. Compliance measures existing under the CDBS could likewise be applied/extended efficiently by the government.
  • Support residential aged care staff. The introduction of an SDBS should be supported by efforts to increase the oral health literacy of care staff. This can be achieved by including mandatory oral health units of study in Certificate III in Aged Care. The ADA could work in partnership to deliver any additional education required by staff with a Certificate III in Aged Care qualification.

1. Lewis et al, op. cit; Welsh S. (2014). ‘Caring for smiles: improving the oral health of residents’, Dental Nursing, 10 (4), pp.224- 228

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