CHILDREN and the elderly are particularly at risk of suffering from bad teeth in regional areas like the North Coast, with many avoiding the dentist because of the cost, according to a prominent local doctor.
Director of the Northern Rivers University Centre for Rural Health and local GP Dr Sue Page has confirmed the region is a hot spot for dental problems in the wake of study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which found one in three Australians avoid or delay visiting the dentist because of the cost.
The study also found that among those who visited a public dental clinic, a quarter had to wait between one and two years and a third wait more than two years.
Dr Page said that was even worse in areas like Lismore and went on to call for Medicare to be expanded to include dental care.
"It does increase the Medicare cost but at the moment we are funding state governments to provide public dental care," she said.
"It would normalise preventative dental health care."
She added that dental health was like maintaining a car.
"If you don't maintain your car, when it breaks it's more expensive," she said.
"People who have regular dental checks and have their plaque cleaned off their teeth, are less likely to get holes in their teeth.
"We have one of the highest rates in the sate of children having general anaesthetic to have multiple teeth pulled."
Whereas people in Sydney might wait six months for dentures Dr Page said: "It can take up to two years to get dentures here, even four years."
"I had a lady who died before she got dentures," she added.
Not only do patients face long waits in the Northern Rivers but she said if somebody left the public dental service here "it's very hard to recruit new people".
For a number of years the public dental service here, she added, had only been taking booking from people in "acute pain".
Worsening the situation was the lack of fluoride in local water supplies.
She warned that made it more important for children to avoid excessive soft drink and consume "good sources of calcium" such as dairy products.
One tip for avoiding cavities she said was to give children a small block of hard cheese to eat after school lunch or for them to take a tube of toothpaste to school and rub a small amount over their teeth after eating.
The Institute of Health and Welfare study found while nearly 60% of adult Australians visited the dentist in a year, one in five said that cost prevented them undergoing recommended treatment.
Institute spokeswoman Dr Jane Harford said the report findings showed that affordability of den
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