Some Victorians have had a toothache for up to four years waiting for publicly-funded general dental treatment.
The Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch on Tuesday released its data, obtained under Freedom of Information, which reveals the longest wait time for general dental treatment was 48 months.
“At current funding levels, only 16 per cent of people who are eligible to access public dental care in Victoria were able to see a dentist in any given year,” association chief executive Matt Hopcraft said.
The figures mean that out of 2.5 million people who are eligible, only 400,000 get much-needed treatment each year.
“People who are eligible for public dental care may have to endure pain, have difficulty speaking and eating, miss school, struggle to find a job or develop other serious health problems in that time,” Professor Hopcraft said.
“We know that poor oral health is one of the strongest indicators of inequality and yet the waiting time for general dental care has increased 67 per cent since 2014/15.”
The average wait time for general dental care was 19.7 months as at February, the figures reveal.
General dental treatment includes routine examinations or check-ups, oral health advice, scale and cleaning, fillings, root canals and X-rays.
Prof Hopcraft called on state and federal governments to increase funding to double the number of patients treated each year to 800,000 by 2023/24.
The dental association said annual funding would need to jump from $240 million to $440 million.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the government had provided a “substantial boost to public dental services in this year’s budget” and called for a nationally-funded dental program.
“We cannot pretend to be the federal government and the state government, we need a national approach to this,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said dental benefits had been increased for about three million Aussie children, to up to $1000 worth of check-ups and treatments per child every two years.
“Although states and territories have primary responsibility for the funding and provision of public dental services, including managing waiting times, the Turnbull government is supporting them by contributing $242.5 million from January 1 2017 to June 30 2019,” he said on Tuesday.
“Only last week … all health ministers agreed to work together on a new dental partnership.”