Every child in Australia will receive dental coverage under an expanded $5 billion federal government scheme in the upcoming budget.
In the largest ever Commonwealth investment in front-line public dental services, the federal government has announced the initiative which will provide more than 10 million Australians with access to public dental services.
The Health Minister Sussan Ley spoke to media on Saturday about the government’s plan to improve Australian children’s dental health through a single national agreement with the states and territories.
“There are children in our schools who've not seen a toothbrush let alone a dentist, and, a really good public dental scheme needs to look after the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, the low income and it needs to pick up on every child across Australia,” Ley told reporters.
The new scheme will replace the current child dental benefits scheme where only 3 million Australian children get means tested dental health coverage.
The aim will be to ensure all children aged under 18 are eligible for federal government subsidised public dental services.
The current adult dental agreement will also be replaced with the new dental scheme which will provide coverage for more than 5 million low- income adults who hold concession cards.
The agreement will double the current funding that the Commonwealth gives the state governments which Ley expects will “dramatically reduce” the waiting lists and allow an additional 600,000 patients to be treated each year.
“I’m delighted, therefore, that this scheme, when legislated -- and I'm confident that it will be -– will be the first time that the Commonwealth makes long-term, ongoing investment in a national dental framework, with the state governments at the table,” she said.
“We need something consistent, we need certainty and we need that investment for every public dental patient for the long term.”
But opposition leader Bill Shorten believes otherwise, telling the media that this scheme will add millions of children to the public dental waiting lists.
“The idea that you improve the dental health of children by cutting $1 billion and making all the children of Australia have to go through public waiting lists to get dental care support from the government is a dental care hoax,” he said.
Ley said she will also be discussing preventative measures with state governments such as introducing the importance of the six-monthly application of fluoride to children’s teeth.
“We don’t necessarily need dentists to do that. We can have oral therapists, we can have dental vans at schools, we can have a really strong focus on prevention with this announcement,” Ley said.
She said the government wants the same arrangement to apply across Australia and that they are in a strong partnership with the states for this initiative.