New data reveals insured patients can still face significant out-of-pocket dental costs

Australians often face costs when receiving dental care and even those who are covered by private health insurance can still be out of pocket up to almost $2,000 for some dental procedures, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster said that good oral health is fundamental to general health and wellbeing. Without it, a person’s general quality of life and the ability to eat, speak and socialise is compromised, resulting in pain, discomfort and embarrassment.

‘However, for many Australians, cost may be a barrier to ensuring they receive the care they need, when they need it,’ he said.

The report, Oral health and dental care in Australia, draws together data from a variety of sources to explore the oral health of Australians and their use of dental care services.

Recent data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that in 2017–18, half (50%) of Australians aged 15 and over said they had seen a dentist over the past 12 months. However, a national study of adult oral health conducted by the University of Adelaide found that in the same year, about 2 in 5 (39%) said they avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to the cost, and this was more common among people who were not covered by private health insurance.

‘More than half (52%) of people without insurance said they avoided the dentist because of the cost, compared with about 1 in 4 (26%) people with insurance,’ Dr Webster said.

Even those people who receive dental treatment using their private health insurance can face substantial out-of-pocket costs. For example, the median out-of-pocket cost after using their health insurance for a full crown was $786. However, there was a great deal of variation between patients, with some paying as little as $26 out of their own pockets, and others paying $1,989.

Other, more routine procedures also saw great variation in out-of-pocket costs even after private health insurance payments.

‘The median out-of-pocket cost for people using private health insurance for a preventive service to remove plaque or stains was $16, but some patients paid up to $82, while others paid nothing,’ Dr Webster said.

Today’s report also suggests that some Australians are more likely to see cost as a barrier than other groups. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely to report avoiding the dentist due to cost than non-Indigenous Australians (49% compared with 39%), and females were more likely than males (43% compared with 35%).

‘Visiting a dentist regularly has many benefits. These visits provide an opportunity for preventive dental care, which can stop problems developing, and can facilitate treatment to repair or reverse damage to teeth and gums,’ Dr Webster said.

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