Teeth can tear the heart out of you! Many people nowadays say Australia’s dental health system is all bark, no bite. What do they mean by this? The undeniable facts of the matter tell us that there are way too many ordinary Australians who cannot afford dental care in this country. Even before the current cost of living crisis, since the pandemic, a visit to the dentist has been out of the economic reach of poorer denizens of this nation. Our teeth and gums are strangely not covered by our universal health insurance Medicare. Every other part of the human body seems to be covered but somebody must have missed something.

Australia Skimping On Investment In Its People

Australian governments have a long tradition of skimping on things. Indeed, the British back at the beginnings of the European invasion and colonisation of what would become Australia chronically underfunded their investment. Originally, this place was used as a penal colony – a dumping ground for the unwanted criminals and political prisoners of their day. When previous Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said that Australia was not a place where slavery happened he showed his ignorance about our history. Convict labour was for all intents and purposes a form of slave labour. This is quite apart from the ‘blackbirding’ of the Indigenous population and their indentured servitude throughout the land for hundreds of years. Australia was and has been about getting something out of very little investment. The ultimate outcome of that approach to things is that it ends up costing a lot more money for those at the lower end of the wealth scale.

Medicare’s Bad Bite & The Bark Of History

Gough Whitlam, the Australian prime minister back in 1974, who ushered in Medicare for all Australians, wanted to include dental care in Medibank – the forerunner to Medicare. Resistance by doctors to the whole concept was tough and dentists, equally against it, were seen as a bridge too far at the time. The huge cost was seen as prohibitive. Further short sightedness on the economic sphere has cost ordinary Australians untold pain and quality of life. It was a mistake back then and remains one to this day.

The Dental Care Divide Between Rich & Poor

“Since 2019, I’ve been eating a soft mush diet. I used to be 92 kilos and now I’m about 68 kilos. “Most people enjoy food. I used to enjoy food. Now, it’s a bit of a chore. You think: ‘Oh … what am I going to eat?’ For me, it’s sort of a burden. There’s no pleasure in eating. It’s a job you have to do.”
Eggs, noodles, mince, and soup are his staples. When he buys an occasional pie, he throws the pastry away. In October 2021, the 61-year-old retiree had publicly funded surgery to remove most of his 32 teeth. He’s been on a waitlist for further public treatment since then.”
– ABC News 

This story is not unusual and Australian’s doing it tough in regard to the state of their teeth have only increased in numbers more recently. Why should this sort of thing happen to our retirees in one of the wealthiest nations on the earth? A growing divide between the haves and have nots in regard to the wealth of Australia is rapidly expanding. Dental care is now something for the rich. Our dentists Sunbury people trust believe this is a social wrong. The CEO of the ANZ bank recently said that home loans are only available for the rich in Australia today. Quality of life in retirement is similarly placed, it seems.

State governments offer subsidised dental care for those that cannot afford it, BUT the wait lists are so long that people suffer for years and years. This ad hoc system does not meet the demands of all those Australians too poor to get the dental work they so desperately need done. High inflation has pushed up already expensive dentistry charges even further out of reach of the working poor. Imagine for a moment the third of Australians paying more than a third or half of their income on rent each week having to cough up hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars for emergency dental work. They have no savings left to meet the crisis.

Regional Queensland’s Dental Black Hole & Missing Fluoride

Many parts of Queensland don’t have fluoride in the water. This gobsmackingly strange occurrence has meant that there are generations of Australians with really bad teeth. Many of these folk do and will require expensive dental work and will not be able to afford it in many instances. This is what we mean by Australia’s dental health system is all bark, no bite. It talks a good game but there are way too many people in pain howling at the moon about their rotting teeth.

Governments Need To Step Up & Stump Up The Cash For Dental

This is not about dentists charging too much for their services. Healthcare professionals work hard and deserve to be properly recompensed. No, this is about governments meeting the real challenge of investing in the welfare of their people. It is time for federal and state governments to fully meet the demand for subsidised dental care for those experiencing economic hardship. Teeth problems are not things you cannot ignore. The nerve damage and pain demands treatment. The quality of life diminishment for sufferers is very real.

“Associate professor Ratilal Lalloo, of the University of Queensland’s School of Dentistry, has been tracking the sunshine state’s waiting lists for almost a decade. He says the most severe cases are frequently waiting beyond recommended time frames.
Dr Lalloo says the vast unmet demand for oral health care across Australia highlights the need for “a significant increase and injection of funds” into the public dental sector over the long term and believes treatment should be included in Medicare.
The Greens have called for dental treatment to be covered under Medicare and estimate the policy would cost about $77 billion over a decade.”
– Janelle Miles, ABC News, Sept 2023

Australians are going to be marching in the streets very soon because the housing crisis is not going to go away any time soon. Economic mismanagement by successive governments in the grip of neoliberal ideas about the market taking care of everything have chronically underinvested in social housing. Underinvestment is a common theme in this country, as you can see. What results from this is the rich taking care of themselves at the expense of the working poor. Social upheaval is on the cards because things like tooth ache and impacted teeth are crying out for prompt attention. Gum disease from poor diet due to high inflation in the food sector will be a growing issue with terrible consequences for the sufferers. Years of cost of living crisis social problems in our cities will erupt into demonstrable dangers to the social fabric. Extremist behaviours will only increase. Ignore the depth and scope of problems and we will all pay for them. Australia’s dental health system is all bark, no bite. The only real solution is investment by government to avoid a likely catastrophe. Now is not the time for timidity and inaction.

Front Office Coordinator Rhiannon - Sunbury Dental House

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