Graham Hicks from East Lismore was relieved to receive free dental care from the North Coast Area Health Service Goonellabah Dental Clinic.
Graham Hicks from East Lismore was relieved to receive free dental care from the North Coast Area Health Service Goonellabah Dental Clinic. Cathy Adams

Free dental service for pensioners

THE debate about provision of free dental services to people whose inability to pay has led them to develop tooth decay and in some cases physical illness is a hot topic on the Northern Rivers.

There are nine government-funded family dental clinics in the Northern Rivers and most have waiting lists due to the high demand for dental care, according to a Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) spokesperson.

Visiting the Goonellabah clinic, The Northern Star caught up with Grahame and Delma Hicks of East Lismore.

"I can't say anything bad about this service; it's just wonderful," enthused Mrs Hicks.

"We rang up a month ago to get Grahame in to fix a chipped tooth. I didn't think much of our chances of getting an appointment, but here we are.

"I still can't believe it; it was free, which makes it just about the only thing that is free these days."

Mr Hicks said it would have cost him at least $300 to see a regular dentist.

"There should be a free service for pensioners and people on fixed incomes," he said.

"Three-hundred dollars is a week's pension for a couple. I'm really grateful for this free service."

Page MP Janelle Saffin told The Northern Star the Gillard Government wants to introduce a Commonwealth dental health scheme similar to the one brought in by the Hawke/Keating government, that was axed by John Howard.

"Before John Howard left government his health minister Tony Abbott brought in a scheme whereby people could access up to $4000 worth of dental care in certain circumstances, but it wasn't means-tested and had equal access for millionaires and pensioners.

"That's not dental - that's mental!

"It's resulted in $20 million being spent in over-servicing, while many people still can't access a dental service they can afford.

"When the Government tried to reintroduce the Commonwealth Dental Health Scheme it got blocked in the Senate by the Opposition.

"In my first speech to Parliament I said we should have a denticare scheme, similar to Medicare.

"I find it strange our mouths are excised from our bodies; it's truly bizarre, since oral health is part of general health and should be treated as such."



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