STILL WAITING: Carol Blanch with her children. Carol has had a string of bad experiences with the public dental service.
STILL WAITING: Carol Blanch with her children. Carol has had a string of bad experiences with the public dental service.

Northern Rivers way behind in State dental care

By JANE GARDNER

jgardner@northernstar.com.au

ALL LISMORE mum Carol Blanch wanted for Christmas was one front tooth, but thanks for the decaying public dental service on the Northern Rivers, she's still waiting.

"When I last saw the dentist in early November, they said I was on the waiting list to get a denture," she said.

"I waited through Christmas, then called them last Wednesday and was told I wasn't even on the list. For four months I have had extremely low self-esteem and confidence."

Ms Blanch has had a string of bad experiences with the public dental service.

Three years ago, she had her front tooth filled. Six months later, an abscess formed and, wracked with pain, she called the public dental line for an appointment.

"They told me they couldn't fit me in, so I borrowed money from my mum to get it treated," she said.

The same tooth broke off 14 months ago, and she has been waiting since to get a denture.

Ms Blanch's story is not uncommon.

President of the North Coast Australian Dentists Association, Doctor Brendan White, is calling the situation an 'absolute disaster'.

"People who can afford the least have the largest problems," Dr White said.

"You could have to wait for months. In the case of wisdom teeth, it could be two or three years.

"Patients are being treated in the public hospital system for abscesses and require surgery which could have been averted by a simple procedure."

The dental crisis is by no means restricted to our region. In NSW, there are 750 government funded public dentist positions and only 500 dentists.

Dr White says 700 dentists are needed to fill the gap, and over the next five years 40 per cent will retire without being replaced.

According to the ADA, the Northern Rivers has the worst rate of decay in the state for 12year-olds, and the second worst in five-year-olds.

We also have the highest rates of hospital admission for dental treatment in children. "We live in an area of need and an area of crisis," Dr White said.

Poor oral health has recently been linked to serious complications including stroke, cardiovascu- lar disease and premature births.

The comments come on top of NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos' admission that he did not know the number of public dental patients on waiting lists.

Meanwhile, 29 new dentists had been placed across the state, but the Northern Rivers has missed out.

In Kyogle, two of the three dentists have left, Casino has lost one of four full-time dentists and Tenterfield has no dentist.

And private dentistry is by no means cheap.

Private dentists charge between $90 and $250 for a filling, up to $450 if it requires a crown. Tooth extraction costs between $90 and $120. Surgical procedures can cost up to $600.

Dr Brendan White said on the Northern Rivers there is one public dentist per 6000 patients.

However, information from the North Coast Area Health Service differs. They say 118,939 patients were seen at the North Coast's 14 public dental clinics last year.

Furthermore, there were 41,094 inquiries to the Public Dental Health Line, with 75 per cent of calls being answered in less than one minute.

Director of clinical streams, Wayne Jones, said we live in an area of high need because of our demographic, with 65 per cent of the community being financially disadvantaged, and lack of fluoride in the water system.



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