Apr 27, 2021

The dental waitlist in this state has just blown out to 153,000: “It’s heartbreaking”

Old woman toothache

Just five years ago, Queensland’s dental waitlist was sitting at 110,075 people. Since then, the list has continued to grow, and with more than 153,000 people waiting in line, there are calls for better resourcing and a partnership with the private sector. 

Data compiled by the Opposition showed that in February of this year, 175,002 people were waiting for dental care, and 21,472 were treated.

In comparison, in February 2016, 140,405 people were waiting and 30,330 people were treated. 

However, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath told The Courier Mail that almost all of the patients on the waitlist were in need of general dental care and were being seen within clinically recommended timeframes. She went on to defend the figures, saying that the sector was running as to be expected, despite Australia’s ageing population and the impact of coronavirus. 

“The Morrison Government has stripped $8.7 million from the current National Partnership Agreement on Public Dental Services for Adults representing a reduction of around 30% in annual funding compared to the 2015-16 financial year,” she said.

Some people on Facebook commented that the Queensland public dental sector was a “total joke” saying that unless you have an issue classified as an emergency, “they tell you [you’re] on a waiting list and won’t get looked at for 2yrs in Queensland”. 

Another person commented that their uncle died while on the waitlist, and was sent a letter saying he could make an appointment months after his death. 

A recent petition was circulating, begging the federal government to make dental covered by Medicare, as millions of Australians are unable to afford the dental care they need. 

Blaming a “life of neglect” in treatment of teeth, she said that delay of treatment “creates too many unnecessary hospitalisations, (where) people leave it too late to do anything.

“Young people … can’t chew properly, they become unemployable because their mouth looks so terrible.”

With thousands of Australians not eligible to receive public dental care, Queensland’s astronomical waiting lists are just the surface of the high numbers of the public going without adequate dental care. 

Dr Mark Hutton, President of the Australian Dental Association, said that there are hundreds of thousands of people going without necessary dental. 

These people “delay their treatment, or have stop gap measures like having a temporary restoration, pulling a tooth rather than saving it”.

Last year, according to data obtained by the ABC, median wait times for public dental across the country range from 6 months in NSW up to 26 months in the NT. Queensland’s median dental wait times fell to 19 months. 

In a statement from a spokesperson for Health Minister Greg Hunt, it was said that the matter of the public dental sector would be considered in last year’s 2020 budget. However, a year later, the issue remains. 

“States are responsible for the delivery of public dental services and the management of waiting times,” said the statement.

“The Commonwealth has provided assistance to states and territories over a series of NPAs. This funding is designed to provide additional services on top of those provided by states and territories. Under these arrangements, states continue to be responsible for the delivery of public dental services.”

At the time, the former Shadow Minister for Health Chris Bowen said that was unacceptable.

“The Federal Government must recommit to the national partnership agreement urgently, Australians need to know they can get their teeth fixed when necessary,” he said.

“Too many Australians avoid dental care already, we need to be doing more, not less.”

What do you think about the long waitlist for public dental care? Have you been affected by it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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