People with additional and/or specialised health care needs

This group includes people living with mental illness, people with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities, people with complex medical needs and frail older people. These people can be vulnerable to oral disease; for example, some medications for chronic diseases can cause a dry mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay (Queensland Health 2008). A number of factors make accessing dental care more difficult for this group, including:

  • a shortage of dental health professionals with skills in special-needs dentistry
  • difficulties in physically accessing appropriate dental treatment facilities
  • the cost of treatment. People with additional and/or specialised health care needs often have their earning capacity eroded by ill health (COAG 2015).

People with disability in Australia

Around 1 in 6 (18%) people in Australia—or about 4.4 million—have disability (AIHW 2020). Some people with disability experience difficulties accessing and using health services. Barriers can include longer than desired waiting times, the cost of services, the accessibility of buildings and direct or indirect discrimination by health professionals. Some people with disability may also experience issues caused by a lack of communication between the health professionals treating them (AIHW 2020).

The People with disability in Australia 2020 report presents data sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (ABS 2019). Data from this survey found that people with disability aged under 65 had difficulties accessing health services in the previous 12 months:

  • 1 in 8 (13%) who need to see a dental professional are placed on a public dental waiting list
  • 7 in 10 (70%) who have been on a public dental waiting list wait 1 month to more than 1 year before receiving dental care
  • 3 in 10 (28%) who need to see a dental professional delay or do not go because of cost.