A national analysis of dental waiting lists and point-in-time geographic access to subsidised dental care: Can geographic access be improved by offering public dental care through private dental clinics?

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    Introduction: Australia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with a population concentrated on or around coastal areas. Up to 33% of the Australian population are likely to have untreated dental decay, while people with inadequate dentition (fewer than 21 teeth) account for up to 34% of Australian adults. Historically, inadequate access to public dental care has resulted in long waiting lists, received much media coverage and been the subject of a new federal and state initiative. The objective of this research was to gauge the potential for reducing the national dental waiting list through geographical advantage, which could arise from subcontracting the delivery of subsidised dental care to the existing network of private dental clinics across Australia. Methods: Eligible population data were collected from the Australian Bureau of Statistics website. Waiting list data from across Australia were collected from publicly available sources and confirmed through direct communication with each individual state or territory dental health body. Quantum geographic information system software was used to map distribution of the eligible population across Australia by statistical area, and to plot locations of government and private dental clinics. Catchment areas of 5 km for metropolitan clinics and 5 km and 50 km for rural clinics were defined. The number of people on the waiting list and those eligible for subsidised dental care covered by each of the catchment areas was calculated. Percentage of the eligible population and those on the waiting list that could benefit from the potential improvement in geographic access was ascertained for metropolitan and rural residents. Results: Fifty three percent of people on the waiting list resided within metropolitan areas. Rural and remote residents made up 47% of the population waiting to receive care. The utilisation of both government and private dental clinics for the delivery of subsidised dental care to the eligible population has the potential to improve geographic access for up to 25% of those residing within metropolitan areas and up to 59% for eligible country residents. Conclusions: This research finds that utilisation of the existing network of private dental practices across Australia for delivery of subsidised dental care could dramatically increase geographic reach, reduce waiting lists, and possibly make good oral health a more realistic goal to achieve for the economically disadvantaged members of the community. In addition, this approach has the potential to improve service availability in rural and remote areas for entire communities where existing socioeconomic dynamics do not foster new practice start-up.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number3814
    JournalRural and Remote Health
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2017


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