One of the first things we learn as children is that looking after your teeth is imperative. Our parents used to constantly warn us that if we eat too many lollies or sweet treats that all our teeth will fall out, which is typically enough to scare any kid into brushing each morning and night! However, the importance of dental hygiene isn’t just a remedy for bad breath or stained teeth: studies have now found that there is a significant association between poor oral health and increased mortality risk! People over the age of 52, with poor oral health, have been found to have a 30% higher risk of mortality than those with 20-plus teeth. Poor oral hygiene has also been seen as a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
With those statistics in mind, you may wonder why many Australians avoid regular dentist visits, resulting in an alarming rise of the adult population having untreated tooth decay. One of the reasons a third of Australians suffer with this is due to the unregulated, expensive pricing of dental appointments. A report from the Grattan Institute found that 2 million Australians avoid or delay going to the dentist each year because they can’t afford it. “When Australians need to see a GP, Medicare picks up all or most of the bill. When they need to see a dentist, Australians are on their own,” the report said.
Dr Heath Fraser, founder of national dental service comparison site AirSmile, says Australia’s public dental health system falls short of its ability to provide timely and affordable dental care, due to its inaccessibility for most Australians. “Wait lists in the public system are blown out and even with additional funding, it will take years to increase its capacity. The private sector is also in such high demand that the public system is unable to outsource its patients.”
The system is even further limited due to the fact that only three types of people are eligible for public dental care through Medicare including children aged between 2 and 17, Centrelink pensioners and Health Care Card holders.
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown brings with it many unforeseen challenges we have never had to cope with before. On top of the mental health issues and lack of social, emotional and physical connection, Australians are also turning to sugary foods as comfort mechanisms. Not only is this increasing the chance of decay, but dental appointments are being postponed during lockdown meaning ailments go longer without being discovered or treated. 42% of Australian children have had tooth decay in their baby teeth, and alarmingly a quarter have had decay in their adult teeth, further proving the need for family dental care.
“We’re seeing an increased demand for dentists and are now faced with an undersupply, particularly in metro areas,” says Dr Fraser “While the industry is doing well amid COVID, with revenue up by 20% or more typically, there is no longer an influx of dentists coming into the country or patients seeking major dental work offshore, keeping many metro dentists at capacity. This will continue as long as our international borders remain closed.”
As most spending on dental care comes straight out of patients’ pockets, people who don’t have the means to pay don’t get dental care. There’s the option for long waiting lists for public care, however according to the Grattan Institute report, roughly 2 million people who required dental care in 2018, the year prior to the report, either didn’t receive it or delayed it due to the cost. People who receive a low-income are the most likely to miss out on their care.
Given there are barriers when it comes to oral hygiene, here are a few tips to ensure you’re able to support yourself until there is one day a more accessible scheme:
- Define your money story. Your personal money narrative that dictates how you spend and save money isn’t set in stone and like any habit it can be reframed and worked at. If you’re trying to build up your savings account but don’t know how to cease the destructive spending habits that are holding you back, your financial journey may take a whole lot longer.
- Learn to budget. Budgeting isn’t always something that comes naturally to people, especially if the goal in mind is an ‘emergency’ such as dental care that isn’t always front and centre of the mind. Learning to budget will help you find out where your money is going and how much savings (or debt) you have. This may also help you find where you could spend less and therefore save more.
- Start an emergency fund. An emergency fund is a small buffer between you and chaos. It’s not for rainy day splurge spending on that new set of golf clubs – as the name details, it’s more for putting out spot fires as they crop up. Having an emergency fund is the cushion that will catch you when something unexpected and expensive pops up, such as a cavity that requires a dentist visit.
- Look at where you’re spending excess money. Many of us don’t shop around for better deals due to convenience and being time-poor, however things such as loyalty tax may be charging us more than we need to pay for the exact same service. Take some time to look where your direct debits are heading and re-evaluate things such as your mobile phone plan, car insurance and health insurance.