Australians who avoid the dentist are putting their health at risk

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Dental care can be vital to a your overall health, but many Australians are putting it on the back burner.

Recent Compare the Market research shows more than half of Australians haven’t visited a dentist in the past year.

Cost is a major factor; inflation has hit many Australian wallets hard over the past couple of years, and a trip to the dentist isn’t cheap.

But Janani Ravichandran, Australian Dental Association (ADA) federal oral health promoter, said a long wait between dental check-ups could end up costing you more.

“There’s this negative cycle of people avoiding going [to the dentist] because of these costs, but then it does put them at this risk of having more progressed conditions,” she said.

“That could require more comprehensive care, and … it might end up actually costing more than having just gone in for those regular checkups.

“Preventative care is always best.”

Major health risks

In Australia, one in 25 people aged 15 and over have no natural teeth left, according to the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Failing to take care of your teeth doesn’t just jeopardise your aesthetically pleasing smile; it can also put your overall health at risk.

ADA data shows 65 per cent of Australians aren’t aware that there is a link between their mouth and the rest of their body, Dr Ravichandran said.

That could explain why 75 per cent of people rarely or never floss and 18 per cent brush their teeth just once a day.

“Your mouth is full of … generally a good balance between good and bad bacteria,” she said.

“But when you forget to floss or brush, the levels of bacteria start to rise, it festers between your teeth and around your gum line, and that level of bad bacteria starts to grow.

“And this bacteria can enter your bloodstream – it can be swallowed into your gut or inhaled into your lungs. So essentially, it’s getting lodged into other sites of your body, where it’s going to start to contribute to the development of diseases or make conditions that you might already have worse.”

Your dentist could catch a lot of potential issues early. Photo: Getty

Poor oral health is linked to health problems such as:

  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Dementia
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • For expectant parents, low birth weight and premature babies.

But these issues, as far as they’re linked to or exacerbated by your oral health, could be preventable through good dental care.

This typically means brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing at least once a day, limiting sugars in your diet, and visiting the dentist as regularly as possible.

Signs it’s time to visit the dentist

“It could be bad breath, it might be that your gums are bleeding … you might notice new spots on your teeth and changes to your tongue, lumps and bumps … obviously, pain is a really big one,” Dr Ravichandran said.

“All of these factors could mean that there is something wrong.

“We actually found that, of the people that only brushed once a day, 29 per cent of people said that brushing causes them pain, and that’s really abnormal. That’s telling you that there’s an underlying issue.”

She said it’s also important to note that if it’s been over a year since your last dentist visit, it’s a good idea to go for a check-up even if you don’t have any adverse symptoms.

After all, many conditions might not hurt in the early stages, but they could still be detected by a professional.

The cost barrier

As important as regular dental check-ups are, Dr Ravichandran acknowledged that the cost of these appointments could be prohibitive for many Australians.

More than 60 per cent of Australians delayed going to the dentist because of the cost, with the average out-of-pocket expense sitting at $240, according to research conducted by the Select Committee into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia.

With the research showing about a quarter of Australia’s population would have trouble affording a $200 dentist bill, more than 4000 people reported to the committee they went without basic necessities to pay for necessary dental services.

For those unable to afford regular dentist appointments, waiting lists for free public dental appointments can stretch out to almost two years, depending on individual state and territory demand for services and supply of dental professionals.

Australians face a daunting wait for public dental care. Photo: Getty

Only five per cent of dental professionals practise in the public dental system, leading to high levels of demand for public dental services.

Although there have been calls over the years for dental care to be included under the umbrella of Medicare, most recently from the Greens’ 2022 campaign, Dr Ravichandran said the multibillion-dollar cost of such a move likely means it won’t happen.

“We’ve determined an estimated costing that if every single aged-care resident utilised the funding that would come under the scheme, it would be about $90 million to $100 million. That’s vastly different per year to [the billions of] dollars it would cost if the industry did come into Medicare,” Dr Ravichandran said.

“And [once that is in effect], we could start to advocate for expanding those schemes to also being provided to people that might have disabilities, or First Nations peoples and those that have low incomes.

“It wouldn’t really require the government to have any changes to legislation … we’ve got the Child Dental Benefits [Schedule], so they could just utilise that legislation to work on getting a senior dental benefit scheme.”

The Select Committee into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services will present a final report into matters relating to Australia’s oral and dental health, and access to services, by November 28.

Topics: dental hygeine, Health, teeth
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