It has been referred to as a history of decay, with less and less Australians able to cover basic tooth care and oral hygiene costs.

But in recent years, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) has sought to promote dental services in the interest of the wider community’s wellbeing.

In February this year, the federal government announced plans to means test health insurance rebates in a bid to redistribute funds to assist low-income earners.

The proposed changes to the national healthcare system will have serious implications for private insurance holders, as well as those requiring assistance to cover basic health costs.

While these changes may continue to fuel controversy well after their July 1 introductory rate, they can also help to improve the country’s dental care system.

The history of dental health care in Australia

Australia has come a long way since the time when having your teeth removed was part of a wedding gift for newlyweds.

However studies on oral health by professor Mark Wahlqvist and the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW) show that the two main types of dental problems, namely dental caries (tooth decay) and periodontal disease or gum disease are still a major problem in different socio-economic groups.

Since the late 1970s, the rate of tooth decay, fillings and extractions has gradually declined following the introduction of water fluoridation (Wahlqvist 2011).

But research from the University of New South Wales Social Policy Research Centre published in 2007 indicated that 60 per cent of the country’s welfare recipients were unable to access dental treatment or yearly dental assessments for children.

In the same year, the results from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Survey of Adult Oral Health drew attention to equally concerning findings.

According to the study, one quarter of all Australians and an alarming 57 per cent of Indigenous Australians were suffering from untreated tooth decay.

Moderate gum disease and inadequate dentition was also thought to affect a similar proportion of the population.

One of the more surprising results was the relatively high number of survey participants - roughly one in 20 - who had no natural teeth remaining at the time of the study.

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