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Reasons Why 2 Million Australians Neglect Their Dental Health Every Year

By Doctor Heath Fraser




Regular dental check-ups help both children and adults to avoid cavities, gum disease and other serious dental issues, while helping dentists find any problems early. Check-ups result in better management and treatment of issues and reducing the need for invasive treatments.

However, around two million Australians annually defer visits to a dentist,1 despite the average professional recommendation to visit every six months. The apprehension of Australians to prioritise dental appointments, whether it be due to worries of pain and discomfort, affordability issues, or an inability to find the time in their busy schedules, has been leading to widespread health impacts. Over 1 in 4 young Australians and adults have untreated dental decay2, while more than 50 per cent of Australians over the age of 65 have gum disease or periodontitis. 3

Below, I share some of the reasons why Australians are avoiding dental visits and how to combat them.

1. Fear of high costs. After medication expenses, dental care costs are an individual’s next largest health expense. In fact, more than half of Australians without health insurance with dental cover are postponing or skipping treatment due to the cost, and a quarter of those who do have dental insurance are delaying or avoiding the dentist due to out-of-pocket fees.4 Low-income Australians are likely to access dental care less often and may be more likely to have periodontal disease, untreated tooth decay or missing teeth. For greater control and choice over dental costs, I recommend Australians use a comparison service to find the best deals and eliminate surprising dental bills. Prioritising savings for dental healthcare or requesting payment plans are other effective ways to navigate high costs.

2. Poor oral health literacy. Health literacy relates to an individual’s capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information needed to make the right oral health decisions. Australians with poor health literacy are more likely to have poor overall health, higher healthcare costs and an increased mortality risk. These individuals are also more likely to miss dental appointments. Australians would be wise to seek a dentist that can provide education and increase their awareness of the importance of oral health to overall health and wellbeing. Dentists have a responsibility to increase patient awareness of appropriate nutritional diet, smoking cessation, community water fluoridation or recommended daily dental care practices.

3. Fear of the dentist. High levels of dental fear impacts approximately 16 per cent of Australians.5 When faced with the reality of a dental appointment, they may experience sweating, racing heartbeat or palpitations, low blood pressure and possible fainting, visible distress, crying or signs of panic, or withdrawal. As a result of such fears, many individuals refuse to see a dentist. I recommend some simple actions to help Australians combat their fear of the dentist. Firstly, it is important for patients to speak up if they’re feeling tense or anxious. Asking questions and speaking openly with their dentist prior to treatment allows the dentist to adjust their communication to ensure they are comfortable. Distraction techniques such as listening to music or an audiobook with headphones, or squeezing a stress ball, can also be helpful. Patients can also try mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, while waiting for an appointment or during breaks when sitting in the dental chair to alleviate stress.

 


About Dr Heath Fraser

Dr Heath Fraser is a dentist and founder of national dental service comparison site AirSmile. He has more than 15 years’ experience and is the owner of Avenue Dental Kawana and Fresh Breath Clinic in Queensland, leading a team of more than 20 across the three businesses. A passionate advocate for accessible, affordable and quality dental care for all Australians, Dr Fraser founded AirSmile in 2019 to enable more Australians to access these benefits. The comparison service is free to use and features an all-in-one online platform for Australians to search and compare dentists across the country, book and manage appointments, and access their dental records. Visit www.airsmile.com

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