A tax on sugary drinks would reduce their consumption and help fund targeted schemes to improve oral care for vulnerable Australians, the dental association says.
In its submission to a parliamentary inquiry examining access to dental services in the country, the Australian Dental Association backs introducing a health levy which could provide revenue to governments.
The peak body also calls for setting up targeted and staged schemes to improve access to oral care, initially aimed at groups more susceptible to disease including people in aged care or living with a disability.
State and local governments should be supported to extend access to fluoridated water to more communities, it says.
The association’s data showed only 44 per cent of adults visited the dentist once or more each year.
“Public programs are oversubscribed, and rationing through queuing occurs, with long wait times for general care common for those individuals who do not benefit from ‘priority access’,” its submission said.
Accreditation body the Australian Dental Council found rural and remote communities need support in accessing oral health services.
People in the regions are more likely to experience tooth decay and loss compared to those living in cities.
The council found rural barriers to dental care include fewer practitioners, greater travel distances and fuel costs, and higher prices for healthy food options and oral hygiene products.
The health department in its submission said public dental services were primarily delivered by the states and territories, with the Commonwealth also contributing funding.
“Each jurisdiction determines its service delivery model and there are significant differences between jurisdictions in terms of who is eligible for services and how those services are delivered,” it said.
Many children and adults in Australia struggled to pay for dental services, the department’s submission noted.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and workforce shortages have made already lengthy wait times for public adult dental services in every state and territory worse,”it said.
A hearing was held on Monday, with the parliamentary committee due to deliver a final report in November.
(Australian Associated Press)