Public hearing on access to dental services convenes in Perth

The Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia has commenced its inaugural public hearing.

Held at the Crowne Plaza on 14 Aug, the hearing has brought together stakeholders with first-hand experience of barriers to dental care including the Australian Dental Association Western Australia (WA), Derbal Yerrigan Health Service, office of the Inspector of Custodial Services and University of WA Dentistry School.

This event is said to mark a pivotal step in the pursuit of equitable dental care access for all people in Australia.

“The lack of dental care coverage within Medicare has far-reaching implications, with preventable dental conditions leading to an astounding 83,000 hospitalisations annually. Additionally, a staggering 750,000 general practitioner appointments are attributed to dental-related concerns each year. The inclusion of dental care within Medicare has the potential to reduce hospitalisations and make more GP appointments available,” said Chair of the Committee Jordon Steele-John.

It is expected that the inquiry, initiated by the Australian Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, will make community-led recommendations to chart a pathway to universal access to dental care in Australia.

Earlier this year on 8 Mar, the Senate resolved that the Select Committee into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia be established. The committee presented an interim report in June which discussed an “unmet need for dental services” and “key questions for the inquiry”. A final report is due by 28 Nov 2023.

The public hearing in Perth marks the first of four that will be conducted across Australia (Image: AAP)

“We are hearing directly from the community that escalating cost of living is forcing people to postpone vital dental visits. There is a deep urgency for the government to transform access to oral health care in this country,” said the Chair. “No one should have to choose between paying their rent, paying for food and accessing oral health care.”

According to a survey ran by the committee to hear from the community, which became the largest committee survey in the parliament’s history, 98% of the 17,000 respondents agreeing that more dental care should be free in Australia.

“By bringing this committee to WA, I aspire to chart solutions that will improve access. Today’s hearing will allow us to deep dive into how the State and Federal Governments could improve access to dental care in regional WA, for First Nations People and for those in WA prisons.”

The public hearing will then travel to Launceston, Brisbane and Canberra on 24 Aug, 20 Sep and 20 Oct respectively.