A check-up on the state of the nation’s health has found almost one-third of people are putting off or avoiding going to the dentist altogether due to the cost.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report found of the people who had visited a dentist in the previous 12 months, 20 per cent did not go ahead with the recommended treatment because of the cost.
Forty-four per cent of uninsured people were avoiding appointments altogether.
And even people with private health insurance were put off, with 20 per cent of them saying they stayed away from the dentist’s chair at all costs.
High capital and labour costs to blame
Perth dentist Anish Shah told 720 ABC Perth that while he understood many people avoided dental treatment because it was expensive, the high costs were hard to mitigate.
“Dentistry is highly technological and a skilled, labour-intensive process and so it’s not something that can be converted to a market situation where prices can go down,” Dr Shah said.
“The set-up costs in trying to get a practice running are significant.
“The total cost that a patient has to pay for includes not just the dentist but also the reception staff, nursing staff, licensing and rent.
“So the total cost of a procedure may be low but there are a lot of supporting costs that need to be factored in at the same time.”
Hip pocket pain vs toothache
For 720 ABC Perth listeners, however, the costs proved prohibitive.
“I was always, from the age of 18, a believer in 12-monthly check-ups — and for the next 35 years my family and I practised this,” Helen said.
“Then seven years ago our family dentist went from $150 to $400 for a scale and clean, so I told him I wouldn’t be coming back and we haven’t.”
“The cost is the only reason I don’t go unfortunately,” Peter said.
“I avoided it for years, lived in pain
“Then finally one day bit the bullet and went to the dentist. A few thousand dollars and I’m four wisdom teeth lighter and no longer in pain,” another caller said.
“Yes it is costly but I’d rather be hurting in the hip pocket than the mouth.”
One caller reported going overseas to access cheaper care.
“It was going to cost me $15,000 for some dental work to be done in Perth, however my sister got me to go have the work done in China for roughly $3,000. The work was perfect and I spent another month on a holiday while I was there.”
The good news is that oral health and preventative dentistry seem to be greatest among younger generations.
The report found that of children aged five to 14, 79 per cent had visited a dentist in the past year, and 91 per cent in the past two years.
Young people have the best chance of avoiding major dental work later in life, according to Dr Shah, thanks to better care and fluoridation in drinking water.
“The younger generation is obviously a lot better off in their total oral health because the amount of education has increased significantly.
“Also, the compliance in coming to the dentist on a regular basis for preventative reasons mean a lot less dentistry needs to be done; and they have good oral hygiene.
“The older generation is suffering the brunt of having to have a lot of dental work done.”