Four in 10 retirement-age Australians skip the dentist due to cost

Last updated on 20 March 2024

This World Oral Health Day — March 20 — advocates have called on the government to address the widespread lack of affordable dental healthcare for those over the age of  55. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Approximately four in five people believe dental care should be covered by Medicare
  • Thirty-seven percent of Australians aged 55 and over have delayed or completely put off going to the dentist in the past year due to the cost
  • Seventy-three percent of all Australians support the introduction of a Seniors’ Dental Benefits Scheme

Research released by Council on the Ageing Australia has revealed that older Australians on lower incomes, which includes many pensioners and those in retirement, have delayed or completely put off going to the dentist due to the cost.

The new findings, published on World Oral Health Day, have renewed calls for a Seniors’ Dental Benefits Scheme to be introduced.

Approximately 73 percent of all Australians are in favour of a scheme that would give older Australians who need it access to quality, affordable dental care and four in five people believe dental care should be covered by Medicare.

COTA Australia Chief Executive Officer Patricia Sparrow said the number of older Australians putting off dental care is incredibly alarming given the broader health and well-being implications, especially for older people who are particularly susceptible to the overall health impacts of poor dental care.

Ms Sparrow said the findings are further evidence that the Federal Government needs to take urgent steps to introduce a Seniors’ Dental Benefit Scheme — a scheme recommended by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety for all residents of nursing homes, pensioners or Seniors’ Healthcare Card holders living in the community.

“The fact that we’ve got four in every 10 older Australians skipping or delaying their dental care should be a real wake-up call to our politicians,” Ms Sparrow said.

“These findings back up what we’re hearing directly from older people. It’s not uncommon for us to hear stories of older Australians not getting the urgent dental work they require, simply because it’s too expensive.

“Good oral health is vital for maintaining good overall health and the risks of not getting the care people need can be incredibly serious — even life-threatening in some extreme cases.

“Having good dental care is essential to good health, no matter what your age, but we know that as you get older the risk of broader health implications increase.”

Ms Sparrow said it is particularly alarming that those on lower incomes and those who self-identify as struggling financially, are skipping the dentist at the highest rates.

“Millions of Australians, both young and older, are putting their health at risk because they simply can’t afford the dental and oral care they need.

“Having dental bulk billed through Medicare would ensure people can get the care they need, limit the number of people getting ill as a result of not getting the care they need and will help address our current cost of living crisis. It’s a common-sense solution to an increasingly alarming problem impacting millions of Australians of every age.”

“The first, most urgent step, for the Federal Government should be to introduce a publicly funded senior Seniors’ Dental Benefits Scheme  bulk billed through Medicare, as was recommended by the Royal Commission into Aged Care.”

Back in March 2021, several key dental and oral health recommendations were made in the

RCACQS final report. At the time, the Australian Dental Association NSW welcomed the fact the Royal Commission had successfully resulted in the inclusion of new oral health requirements in the draft Revised Aged Care Quality Standards. Very few recommendations, such as a Seniors’ Dental Benefits Scheme have been implemented, leaving an oral health care crisis in the making, according to ADA representatives. There are estimated to

be over 4.2 million Australians over 65 and the average age people intend to retire is 65.5 years.

Pension was the main source of income for most retirees, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, meaning the cost-of-living crisis is potentially putting retirees at risk of poor oral health.

When did you last see the dentist? Do you believe Medicare should cover the costs of oral health? Let the team at Your Retirement Living know and subscribe to the newsletter for more information, news and industry updates.

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