Dental Benefits Scheme critical for seniors

Royal Commission urged to get its teeth into better seniors dental care.

Key Points

  • Millions of older Australians don’t have basic access to dental services
  • National Seniors wants government support for a universal dental health care scheme for older Australians
  • We believe affordable dental care is essential for the health and wellbeing of older people 

Of the 124 recommendations made by Counsel Assisting the royal commissioners, those promoting better oral care for seniors received little coverage, yet is of crucial importance to the health of older Australians.

National Seniors has promoted affordable dental care as essential for the health and wellbeing of older people as part of our Fix Pension Poverty campaign. But the privatisation of dental care has put it out of reach for disadvantaged older Australians, especially pensioners.

This means millions of older Australians don’t have basic access to dental services.

Evidence shows that a healthy mouth enables people to eat, speak and socialise without pain, discomfort or embarrassment. Poor oral health is also linked to chronic diseases, including stroke and cardiovascular disease.

That is why we agree with the renewed focus on this important health concern coming from counsel assisting. National Seniors wants government support for a universal dental health care scheme for older Australians, based on the Child Dental Benefits Scheme (CDBS). This would provide pensioners access to an annual subsidy to help maintain their dental health.

These funds could also be used to support the delivery of much needed dental care to residents living in aged care.

The Australian Dental Association (ADA) has welcomed Counsel Assisting’s recommendation to introduce a Senior Dental Benefits Scheme and has called for those recommendations to be followed through with urgency.

“Creating such a scheme is critical to building better oral health among people in aged care,” said Dr Carmelo Bonanno, ADA Federal President.

“Without the funding mechanism to ensure that private dental practitioners can provide screening and treatment, the oral health of our most vulnerable population will continue to be neglected.”

In its submissions to the Royal Commission, the ADA reinforced the need for a Senior Dental Benefits Scheme and its benefits relative to other models - a model National Seniors supports.

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Under a Senior Dental Benefits Scheme, Pensioner Concession Card holders aged over 65 and Commonwealth Seniors Card holders would receive an individual entitlement to subsidised public or private dental treatment up to a cap, for every two-year period.

The entitlement could be used by patients to fund dental examinations before or on entry to aged care and regularly from then on, as well as oral health care planning once they access aged care, and any necessary treatment.

Importantly, it would mean that older people would no longer need to languish on public dental waiting lists and would have the choice of continuing to see their regular dentist.

In addition, by improving access to affordable and timely dental treatment for those aged 65 and above, the scheme would ensure that they do so with a better foundation of oral health.

Having a national scheme based on consistent eligibility criteria and treatment rules which can fund dental care for a high proportion of their residents/clients, will be equally important to aged care providers trying to navigate an already complex funding system.

As ADA Federal President, Dr Carmelo Bonanno notes, there are many benefits of such a scheme for those in aged care.

“Ongoing assessments and access to oral health treatment will be improved for residents which will benefit their general health and nutritional status, while aged care providers, carers and families will have access to a range of available practitioners to provide these services.”

You can support our call for a Senior Dental Benefits Scheme by joining up to the Fix Pension Poverty campaign.