Dental care costs revealed in surprising report

All Australians want a clean bill of health. Achieving that is another thing entirely. In many cases we create our own barriers to achieving that clean bill, but some barriers are beyond our control.

One of those is cost. And leading the way when it comes to those costs is dental care.

Now, a new report highlights just how much of an expense even the most basic aspects of dental care can be. The report has been produced by an appropriately named organisation – Cleanbill – founded in 2022 by James Gillespie.

Cleanbill’s first report, released in April this year, focused on the cost of accessing GPs. That release, The 2023 Health of the Nation, has been followed by the Cleanbill National Dental Listings Report (2023). And it reveals what most of us know but still startles almost all of us – dental care costs a lot!

The new report collates data collected between July and October this year from dental clinics across Australia. In fact, says Cleanbill, it obtained data from “every dental clinic we could find across Australia”, which totalled 6268.

Data collected included not just cost but other indicators, such as availability. Availability, or the lack of it, can ultimately also contribute to cost, if the need for care is urgent.

Dental care costs across Australia

Across the entire country, the average cost of a standard check-up and clean comes in at $230. That’s if you visit your regular dentist. For clinic first timers, the national average comes in just shy of $300, at $297.15.

Somewhat surprisingly, when looking at Australia’s eight states and territories, NSW and Victoria rank as two of the nation’s cheapest. This contrasts starkly with national property price averages broken down by state and territory.

In NSW, the cost of a standard check-up and clean averages $224.21, with Queensland’s average $225.93 and Victoria at $228.34. At the other end of the scale, the ACT average comes in at a whopping $274.50. That’s more than $50 higher than for the same service in Sydney.

Cleanbill describes the report results, and dental care costs overall, as “worrying”. Its conclusion bemoans the fact the costs are resulting in patients forgoing basic dental care.

“In over 90 per cent of electorates, the average cost of a new patient visit with a dentist exceeds $253. Standard check-up and cleans for regular patients generally cost less, but in Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australia Capital Territory they still average prices above $250.”

The report says that in many cases, these dental care costs cannot be recovered, even in part, because many Australians can’t afford private health cover.

“These costs aren’t being defrayed by private extras cover either, as almost half (46.9 per cent) of Australians over 15 don’t have access to it. In these circumstances, it’s easy to see why over 3.4 million Australians delayed or forewent care with a dentist.”

Don’t pay now, suffer later

Cleanbill’s report serves as a reminder to a question many of us ask, but which appears to have no answer. Why is basic dental health not covered under Medicare?

One aspect of Cleanbill’s report further highlights this seemingly nonsensical exclusion from Medicare. “In 2020-21, 82,916 Australians ended up in hospital with potentially preventable dental conditions.” That represented “an increase of 14.4 per cent over pre-COVID levels”.

“This should not be happening,” the report concludes. As a commercial venture, Cleanbill’s report understandably gives itself a shout-out in presenting a possible solution. “If out-of-hospital healthcare is to be accessible for all Australians, a service that helps people find available practitioners who they can afford around them is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

From a non-commercial perspective, the question of why basic dental care costs are not being covered by Medicare remains unanswered.

Have you avoided getting a dental check-up because of the cost? Should Medicare cover this basic health service? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Two-thirds of older Australians going without healthcare due to cost, survey finds

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