Costs bite into dental care for older Australians

Dentist with elderly patient. | Newsreel
More than a third of older Australians are struggling to afford dental care. | iStock

More than a third of older Australians have delayed going to the dentist in the past 12 months due to financial pressures.

A survey by advocacy group COTA Australia found 37 percent of people aged over 55 years could not afford a trip to the dentist, with that number increasing to 44 percent of older Australians on lower incomes, which includes many pensioners and those in aged care.

The research, released to coincide with World Oral Health Day on March 20, also showed 73 percent of all Australians supported the introduction of a Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme and four in five people believed dental care should be covered by Medicare.

COTA Australia Chief Executive Officer Patricia Sparrow said the number of older Australians putting off dental care was alarming given the broader health and wellbeing implications, especially for older people who were particularly susceptible to the overall health impacts of poor dental care.

“The findings are further evidence the Federal Government needs to take urgent steps to introduce a Seniors Dental Benefit Scheme – a scheme recommended by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety for all residents of nursing homes, pensioners or Seniors Healthcare Card holders living in the community,” Ms Sparrow said.

“The fact that we have four in every 10 older Australians skipping or delaying their dental care should be a real wake up call to our politicians.

“These findings back up what we’re hearing directly from older people. It’s not uncommon for us to hear stories of older Australians not getting the urgent dental work they require simply because it’s too expensive.

“Good oral health is vital for maintaining good overall health, and the risks of not getting the care people need can be incredibly serious – even life threatening in some extreme cases.”

Ms Sparrow said it was particularly alarming that those on lower incomes, and those who self-identify as struggling financially, were skipping the dentist at the highest rates.

“Millions of Australians, both young and older, are putting their health at risk because they simply can’t afford the dental and oral care they need.

“Having dental bulk billed through Medicare would ensure people can get the care they need, limit the number of people getting ill as a result of not getting the care they need, and will help address our current cost of living crisis.”