Dentists call for expansion of Child Dental Benefits Scheme to include senior Australians

Amid poor dental hygiene and mouth disease rates in Australians and the rising costs of living, dentists and advocates are calling for subsidies for children to be extended to the elderly.

A regional Victorian dentist and the national peak dentistry body are welcoming the four-year extension of the Child Dental Benefits Scheme — available to families on Family Tax Benefit A — to help get children in the dentist’s chair.

But they want to see it expanded to senior Australians.

“We know that the Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety and Quality a few years ago recommended a senior central benefits program, which is essentially the child dental benefits schedule for older adults,” the Australian Dental Association’s Victorian branch CEO, Matt Hopcraft, said.

“We think that that’s a really key part of what we want to see moving forward so that older Australians get access to dental care as well.”

A man stands in front of bushes smiling at the camera.
Matt Hopcraft says the benefits scheme should be extended to senior Australians and all surgeries for children.(ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

The Council of the Ageing is supporting the call for a Seniors Dental Benefits Scheme and wants to see recommendations from the aged care royal commission put into practice.

“The royal commission … highlighted countless stories of aged care residents who suffered from pain and discomfort, poor nutrition and an inability to access timely and affordable dental care,” its manager of policy and advocacy, Ben Rogers, said.

The Council of the Ageing said data from last year showed dental conditions alone were the second biggest cause of potentially preventable hospital admissions in Victoria.

“Older people accounted for a third of these presentations. Older Victorians are having to wait to access dental care,” Mr Rogers said.   

The 2017-18 National Survey of Adult and Oral Health found three in five older Australians had visited the dentist in the past 12 months. 

However, it found 22 per cent of 1,000 people aged 75 and over avoided or delayed dental care due to cost, and 18 per cent said they would have difficulty paying a $200 bill.

Helping the hip pocket

The Child Dental Benefits Scheme means children aged up to 17 who are covered by the family tax benefit can now access up to $1,026 in benefits, over two years, for basic dental services.

“This scheme prevents bigger issues down the line. It’s preventative in nature and encompassing all kids would be its best benefit,” lead dentist at Kennington Dental Sathie Naidoo said.

A dentist stands in front of a dentists chair.
Sathie Naidoo says the Child Dental Benefits subsidy helps improve preventative measures against mouth disease.(ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

“The scheme has one limitation, which is the exclusion of general anaesthetic, but other than that it is a brilliant, brilliant scheme.

“It is something that is absolutely necessary, and it should be extended to every kid.”

The Australian Dental Association said one in three kids had tooth decay by the age of five to six, in their baby teeth, and two in five kids had tooth decay in their adult teeth by the age of 12 to 14.

Dr Naidoo and the association want the government to expand the scheme for children so general anaesthetics for more complex surgeries are included.

Family Tax Benefit data from September last year showed that in Bendigo, in regional Victoria, 9,354 families would be covered under the scheme, with around 17,736 children eligible.

Government intervention

The scheme has received bipartisan support, with the Commonwealth spending nearly $440 million since 2014 to deliver around 7.6 million dental services to 900,000 children in partnership with states and territories.

A short-haired woman wears a red jacked and a black top and a big necklace gestures as she speaks to the camera in a street.
Lisa Chesters says the Child Benefits Dental Scheme subsidy for families is the difference between young Australians getting regular dental check-ups and not.(ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

Federal MP Lisa Chesters said as Australian families battled with the rising cost of living, the four-year extension of the Child Benefits Dental Scheme meant basic dental care would not be neglected due to family finances.

“By improving access to dental services for children, the program helps address declining oral health and sets children on a path to better health throughout their lives,” she said.