Money is not the only answer to shorten dental waiting lists

Simply injecting more federal funding into treating dental disease is not the solution to reduce patient waiting lists long term. Instead there should be more emphasis on oral health promotion and education to encourage people to take responsibility for their own oral health.

This is the call from research released from Griffith University School of Dentistry and Oral Health this week, and published in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

The Queensland Public Dental Service waiting list was analysed from 2013- 2015 at a time when various funding agreements between the federal and state and territory governments were in place.

The study investigated the list’s open data which reports on the changing number of people waiting for care and the percentage of people waiting beyond areasonable period.

“While the number of people waiting decreased following the initial funding agreement, they gradually increased again coinciding with reductions in funding and deferring the agreement,” says Professor Jeroen Kroon, Menzies Health Institute Queensland.

Wait time blitz unsustainable

The percentage waiting beyond areasonable period decreased from 57% to 28% duringthe 3-year study period.

“While the ‘blitz on dental waiting lists’ was successful in reducing numbers, this was not sustained,” says Professor Kroon.

“There have been several agreements over the years between federal and states to improve the waiting list situation.

“In Queensland this was used to introduce a voucher system giving eligible public dental patients the option to have dental procedures performed by private dentists and, improvements to infrastructure and extended internal capacity.

Responsibility rests with individual

“Unfortunately though these incentives, aimed at treating the disease, is nothing more than an unsustainable ‘quick fix’ approach over the longer term.”

“People need to realise that all oral diseases are preventable and that taking responsibility for their own oral health is a much more sensible approach.

“Educating people about oral health is only one part of the equation, which needs to be combined with limiting the intake of sugars and realising the importance of personal dental hygiene, added to the protective effect of fluoride, as governments will always be limited in being able to provide affordable treatment solutions.“

“At the end of the day, the old saying ‘prevention is better (and cheaper) than cure’ remains as valid today as when it was first used when it comes to dental care.”