Philanthropy in Dentistry: Dental Charities Have a Lot to Give
Australia is in the midst of a cost of living crisis following the global Coronavirus pandemic. It seems, as if corporate Australia has decided to recoup all and any losses from the pandemic by raising its prices on everything. High inflation is the result and the cost of essentials like food, energy, and rents have risen dramatically. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has compounded the problem with its solution by embarking on the most intense succession of interest rate rises in Australia’s history. Thus, our economy is rapidly headed for recession and this will mean rising unemployment. Especially, as Australia is taking in around 1000 new migrants per day, after the federal government acquiesced to employer group demands for more skilled labour. The relevant outcome of all this is that it is the perfect time for some kind hearted emergency dental service to lend a helping hand. Philanthropy in dentistry, and in particular dental charities globally or within Australia, are a chance to show that some dentists do care.
“About 4 in 10 Australians delayed or avoided a trip to the dentist due to cost in 2017-18, and more recently a number of people were not able to visit a dentist due to COVID-19 says the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).“
– Choice Magazine, 9 March 2023
Australian Dental Philanthropy
Dentistry in the minds of many Aussies is an expensive and cold-hearted affair. This impression of the sector is predominantly due to the fact that it is not covered by Medicare. Our teeth alone stand outside of our universal healthcare insurance.
“For years, oral health has highlighted growing inequalities in Australia between the rich and poor. While a visit to your local GP is either partly or entirely covered by Medicare, only a fraction of the population can access government-funded dental check-ups. That’s not because oral health isn’t important — in fact, it’s closely associated with a wide range of conditions like diabetes and heart disease. But like most things in politics, this all comes down to money, and a decision made almost five decades ago.
The Whitlam government originally wanted to include dental in Medibank in 1974 — the precursor to Medicare. But negotiations with doctors consumed all the government’s efforts and Gough Whitlam didn’t want to bite off more than he could chew with dentists as well. It was also going to be costly. Since then, we’ve seen various governments try to reform the dental system but, despite the efforts of those in power, a huge gap in care remains.”
Dental Philanthropy Directed Toward Kids
Philanthropy in dentistry in Australia is heavily directed toward children, as most state governments provide some level of free dental care for kids. This is a good thing in itself, as improving the standard of oral hygiene in our children means a better future for Australians. Veterans receive free dental care as well. In the short term, however, there are many adults struggling to make ends meet who gnash their aching teeth and bemoan the expense of getting their teeth fixed. There are public dental clinics in every state capital city, where those carrying a valid Health Care Card, Pensioner Concession Card, or Commonwealth Seniors Health Card can receive free treatment. There are, however, very few of these clinics in proportion to the population and demand for their services. In the current economic crisis, growing by the day, the need for philanthropy in dentistry is getting larger. The Catch 22 situation that the Albanese government finds itself in, where Treasury and the RBA tells it that any increase to the money supply will be inflationary, means it is reluctant to offer more money for welfare recipients on Job Seeker and the like. Therefore, only direct services through things like philanthropic dentistry will cut through for the needy without spiking higher inflation. Expect to see more programs offering vouchers for services as a means to assuage the effects of the cost of living crisis in Australia.
The Australian Dental Foundation
The Australian Dental Foundation is one such philanthropic organisation proving that not all dentists have Actino running through their veins. Their online claim of helping more than 41, 500 Australians to improve their oral health is a welcome strike against the inequality that exists in this country. Not all Australians get to live and work on a level playing field. Indigenous Australians have been neglected dreadfully for decades and centuries. Aussies with a disability have, until very recently, been another group shunned by society and omitted from our nation’s wealth. The NDIS is taking on this gargantuan task after decades and decades of endemic neglect by the nation. No wonder it is costing a relatively large amount of money to address the backlog of systemic need.
Philanthropy in Dentistry: Profile of a Dental Charity
“We address the inequalities which exist in oral health to enable the provision of quality oral care to those who need it most. Most oral health conditions are largely preventable and can be treated in their early stages. Yet children, adolescents, seniors and people living with disability remain the greatest sufferers of poor oral health, facing the most significant barriers to accessing oral health care.”
– Dental Foundation: About Us
Philanthropy is a wonderful thing but I bet that disabled Australians are glad of the NDIS rather than being solely dependent upon the goodwill of charity. The problem with a reliance on charitable initiatives is that they are, often, more sporadic than dependably regular. They, also, rely on wonderful individuals who can, in time, get older and grow weary. Australia, as a wealthy nation, should not require its needy to be put in such dire straits when it comes to accessing their dental care. There is a very real cost of living crisis going on with rents having risen by staggering amounts of up to 42% in some cities. Pay packets are not stretching to meet the inflationary demands of living in Australia in 2023. The RBA tells us that they predict inflation will not return to the 2-3% target band until late 2025.
Philanthropic Aged Care Dental Program
The Australian Dental Foundation runs a dental care program for those in aged care at minimal cost. This mobile dental clinic comes to the facility and performs some much needed treatments to many in desperate need. All of us, as we age, require greater levels of dental care and it can be harder for the elderly to communicate their requirements. We all know of the dreadfully inadequate care that too many of our elderly are receiving in some aged care facilities from the evidence presented to the Royal Commission into Aged Care. There is huge scope for improvement in so many areas, as this sector remains understaffed in terms of registered nurses and qualified carers.
Australia is a wonderful country and provides a great standard of living for many millions of its residents. We do, however, struggle to meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable. The very fact that we require philanthropic dentistry is proof of our failings in this sector of our healthcare. Healthcare workers have just come through a very demanding period during the pandemic and some individuals have suffered burnout from the load. Medicare itself is under stress with a recent review revealing rampant over-billing to the tune of billions of dollars.
“Philip described Medicare’s legislation, governance and systems as not fit for purpose and called on state governments to investigate the opaque billing arrangements of public hospitals amid claims by medical specialists that they have little or no visibility of what is billed in their name. “This is a matter for further investigation and discussion with states and territories beyond this review’s timeframe,” he said. He also found that only a small proportion of Medicare’s payments were scrutinised or analysed, which raises questions about the looseness of the system. “The lack of continuous monitoring and analysis of the 500 million transactions a year is a growing area of vulnerability,” he warned.”
– Sydney Morning Herald
Do Dentists Want To Be Under the Medicare Insurance Scheme?
“Dentists are free to set their own fees. Unlike medical services covered by Medicare, which have prescribed rebates and for which the AMA provides their members with recommended fees, there are no standard fees for services provided by dentists or other dental professionals in Australia. Dentists’ prices depend on a range of factors – such as location, overheads and experience, as well as factors that affect the degree of difficulty and time involved in doing a procedure on a specific patient and differences in the method or materials that are appropriate to each case.”
Australian dentists do a great job providing a very high standard of dental care to our patients. The materials and technology used by dentists are expensive, which makes a visit to your dentist a pricey affair if you are not covered via private health insurance. Most dentists running their own show would, I posit, prefer to stay out of Medicare. The freedom from price controls and other bureaucratic red tape is attractive and, perhaps, more so in the current Medicare clime.
Dental charities and philanthropists in the form of The Australian Dental Foundation perform valuable work in an Australia, fast becoming one of the most inequitable nations on earth. It will become even more important to look after those who cannot afford to pay their way in this inflationary economy going forward.
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