Costs

Many Australians face financial barriers in accessing dental services (COAG 2015). Overall, individuals directly fund a significant proportion of total expenditure on dental services, 57% in 2017–18 (AIHW 2019).

Key terms

  • Household: from ABS Explanatory Notes
  • Constant prices: Constant price expenditure adjusts current prices for the effects of inflation—that is, it aims to remove the effects of inflation. For further explanation refer to the Glossary in Health expenditure Australia 2017–18.
  • Dental services: Services that registered dental practitioners provide. These include oral and maxillofacial surgery items, orthodontic, pedodontic and periodontic services, cleft lip and palate services, dental assessment and other dental items listed in the MBS. The term covers dental services funded by health funds, state and territory governments and also individuals’ out-of-pocket payments.
  • General inflation: The rise in the general price level of goods and services in the economy.

Expenditure

Dental services expenditure data presented in this section are derived from AIHW analysis of the Health Expenditure Database.

Overall, $10.5 billion was spent on dental services in 2017–18

  • Recurrent expenditure on dental services in Australia is estimated to be $10.5 billion for 2017–18, up from $6.8 billion in 2007–08, adjusted for inflation.
  • Total expenditure on dental services increased every year from 2007–08 to 2017–18, at an average annual growth rate of 4.4%.

In 2017–18, per capita expenditure on dental services was $424

  • Per capita expenditure on dental services steadily increased from $326 in 2007–08 to $424 in 2017–18, adjusted for inflation.

Government expenditure

  • Australian Government expenditure on dental services fluctuated over the decade to 2017–18, from a low of $723 million in 2007–08 to a high of $1,580 million in 2017–18. Across the period, expenditure grew at an average annual rate of 8.1%.
  • Overall, state and territory government expenditure on dental services grew at an average annual rate of 2.8%. Expenditure ranged from $650 million in 2007–08 to $859 million in 2017–18.
  • Between 2007–08 and 2017–18, Australian Government per capita expenditure on dental services increased from $34 to $64, at an average annual growth rate of 6.4%.
  • State/territory and local government per capita expenditure fluctuated during the period 2007–08 to 2017–18, ranging from $30 in 2012–13 to $37 in 2010–11. Across the period, expenditure grew at an average annual rate of 1.1%.

Non-government expenditure

  • Non-government expenditure on dental services increased steadily overall, from $5,474 million in 2007–08 to $8,068 million in 2017–18. This represents an average annual growth rate of 4.0%.
  • Expenditure on dental services by individuals accounted for the majority of non-government expenditure, increasing from $4,424 million in 2007–08 to $6,009 million in 2017–18 at an average annual growth rate of 3.1%.
  • Health insurance funds expenditure on dental services increased at an average annual growth rate of 6.8%, from $1,040 million in 2007–08 to $2,008 million in 2017–18.
  • Per capita expenditure on dental services by the non-government sector increased from $261 in 2007–08 to $326 in 2017–18, adjusted for inflation. Across the period, per capita expenditure grew at an average annual rate of 2.3%.

Explore the data using Costs interactive 1 and 2 below.

Household expenditure

Data presented in this section was sourced from the 2003–04, 2009–10 and 2015–16 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Household Expenditure Survey (HES) (ABS 2006; ABS 2011; ABS 2017).  The ABS HES collects information on household expenditure patterns using variables such as income levels, sources, employment, family kinship, age and geographic location, to help provide a better understanding on living standards and economic wellbeing of Australians.

On average, Australians spent $7.62 per week on dental fees in 2015–16

  • In 2015–16, Australians spent an average of $7.62 per week on dental fees, compared to $5.74 in 2003–04 and $7.23 in 2009–10.
  • Residents of the Australian Capital Territory spent an average of $13.73 per week on dental fees in 2015–16, more than any other jurisdiction.
  • In 2015–16, South Australian residents spent an average of $5.88 per week on dental fees, less than any other jurisdiction.

Explore the data using the Costs interactive 3 below.

Barriers

Data in this section were sourced from the National Study of Adult Oral Health 2017–18. Respondents were asked a range of questions relating to the cost of dental care.

People who avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to cost

Around 4 in 10 (39%) of people aged 15 years and over avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to cost

  • Females had higher rates of avoidance due to cost than males, 43% compared to 35%.
  • Indigenous Australians  (49%) had higher rates of avoidance due to cost than non-Indigenous Australians (39%).
  • People with insurance had lower rates of avoidance due to cost than those without insurance, 26% and 52% respectively. 
  • People who usually visit the dentist for a problem (58%) were more than twice as likely than those who usually visit for a check-up (27%) to avoid or delay visiting a dentist due to cost.

People who reported that cost prevented recommended dental treatment

Around 1 in 4 (23%) dentate adults aged 15 years and over who visited a dentist in the last 12 months reported that cost prevented recommended dental treatment

  • Adults aged 35–54 years were the most likely to not receive recommended dental treatment due to cost, 29%
  • People without insurance (30%) were more likely to report that cost prevented recommended dental treatment than those with insurance (18%).
  • Currently says: People who usually visit the dentist for a problem (44%) reported higher rates of cost preventing recommended dental treatment than those who usually visit for a check-up (16%).

People who stated they would have a lot of difficulty paying for a basic preventive visit

Around one-quarter (24%) of adults aged 15 years and over stated they would have difficulty paying a $200 dental bill

  • The proportion of females (28%) reporting difficulty paying for a basic preventive visit was greater than the proportion of males (20%).
  • Indigenous Australians (40%) were more likely than non-Indigenous Australians (24%) to report difficulty paying a $200 dental bill.
  • A lower proportion of people with a degree or higher (15%) reported they would have difficulty paying for a basic preventive visit than those with other or no qualifications (27%).
  • More than twice as many people without insurance (33%) stated they would have difficulty paying for a basic preventive visit than those with insurance (15%).
  • Around twice as many people eligible for public dental care (39%) stated they would have difficulty paying for a basic preventive visit than those ineligible for public dental care (18%).

Cost trends

The proportion of dentate adults aged 15 years and over who avoided or delayed dental care due to cost increased from 31% in 2004–06 to 39% in 2017–18

  • Adults aged 25–34 were more likely to avoid or delay dental care in both 2004–06 and 2017–18 than any other age group, 43% and 50% respectively.

The proportion of dentate adults aged 15 years and over who reported the cost of dental care was a large financial burden was similar in 2004–06 and 2017–18, 14% and 13% respectively

  • There was a significant decrease in the proportion of dentate adults aged 35–44 who reported the cost of dental care was a large financial burden between 2004–06 and 2017–18, 16% and 12% respectively.

Explore the data using the Costs interactives 4 and 5 below.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2006. Household expenditure survey, Australia: Detailed Expenditure Items, 2003–04 (Reissue). Cat. no. 6535.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 7 January 2019.

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2011. Household expenditure survey, Australia: summary of results, 2009–10. Cat. no. 6530.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 7 January 2019.

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Household expenditure survey, Australia: summary of results, 2015-16. Cat. no. 6530.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 7 January 2019. 

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare): Chrisopoulis S, Harford JE & Ellershaw A 2016. Oral health and dental care in Australia: key facts and figures 2015. Cat. No. DEN 229. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Health expenditure Australia 2017–18. Cat. no. HWE 077. Canberra: AIHW. doi:10.25816/5ec5ba12ed174

Chrisopoulos L, Luzzi L, Ellershaw A, 2019. Dental care pp97–124. In: ARCPOH. Australia’s Oral Health: National Study of Adult Oral Health 2017–18. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide, South Australia.

COAG (Council of Australian Governments) Health Council 2015. Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives: Australia’s National Oral Health Plan 2015–2024. Adelaide: South Australian Dental Service.