Good dental health is crucial, honey. Sad teeth and gums can directly cause serious health problems like heart disease. But good dental health is also a marker of status because, for some reason, it’s not covered by Medicare. Basically only people earning six-figure salaries are able to afford to keep their chompers in good shape.
If you can’t (or really, really don’t want to) hand over $250 every six months to have your teeth cleaned, then your oral health will likely deteriorate. And the longer you leave it the more problems and bigger bill you’ll have down the track.
Limitations like cost leave lower-income people, First Nations people, immunocompromised people and those living in remote areas to suffer, while rich folks cruise by assuming clean, white teeth and rosy gums are a given.
So seriously why the fuck is dental care not on medicare?
Let us explain.
Medicare was introduced by Labor PM Gough Whitlam in the 1970s. Back then it was called Medibank.
Whitlam originally wanted dental to be included but the whole thing was a huge financial and logistical investment. It took months of negotiating with doctors and surgeons and apparently throwing dentists in the mix was just too difficult.
Whitlam also didn’t want to go too hard too early. The government wanted to get the thing off the ground and make sure it worked before it ramped up spending. So it compromised and left out dental.
Whitlam was voted out in 1975 and the issue was tossed aside like yesterday’s lunch.
Dental’s exclusion from public healthcare has been talked about since but no government has ever been fucked to change it. Too expensive, too much work and people are already used to this system so why bother?
So what dental treatments are covered by Medicare today?
Concession card holders can access free basic treatments like check-ups and fillings. Other more specific treatments or exams are also covered if they’re required before another major treatment or surgery.
For example: dental services needed for radiation treatment for certain jaw diseases like oral cancer are paid for. Or before patients get a kidney transplant they need an oral examination. And obviously if you break your jaw that’ll be covered by Medicare at a public hospital. But getting your wisdom teeth out won’t be. It’s a mess.
There are also bulk-billed dental X-ray facilities so ask your dentist for a referral to one if they try to make you cough up!
But otherwise your teeth are on their own.
And this is NOT GOOD.
About 30 per cent of Australians go without regular dental care due to the cost barrier. A 2020 report found only half of Australian adults had been to the dentist in the past 12 months. As someone in their 20s I would say the overwhelming majority of my friends have put it off for at least a year.
The number of adults with untreated tooth decay increased from 25.5 per cent in 2018 to 32.1 per cent in 2020.
And those seeking treatment are being stalled by massive waiting lists for public (ie free) dental care. The average wait time for a free dental appointment in Victoria in 2020 was 18 months. The NT was the worst in 2018 with an average wait time of 26 months. People could potentially lose half their teeth while waiting to get in the chair.
So what’s being done to address this?
Pretty much fuck all.
The Greens have a pledge for universal access to free dental care, which would cost $7.6 billion a year. But no other parties have brought it up.
Labor, the party who literally created Medicare, hasn’t said a peep about it despite carrying on and on about how great Medicare is throughout the election campaign in May.
The long and short of it is the dentist will continue to get more and more expensive year after year until a Federal Government eventually cops the cost to make it cheaper for us. But it doesn’t look like that’s happening aaaaany time soon.
On that note, please go to the dentist if you can afford it!