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How do public dental waiting lists compare nationwide?

4 min read
7 Mar 2019
close up of dentist performing examination on female patient

Public waiting list times for dental care in Victoria have grown over recent years, leaving people in limbo while they wait for treatment. In August 2018, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) reported that Victorians were waiting an average of 19.7 months for dental care.[1]

By the end of September 2018, the average time Victorians spent waiting increased to 20.3 months.[2]

Waiting times have increased across the state to the point where at the end of 2018, 30 areas have an average waiting time of over two years for general dental care, and only two areas, Shepparton and Bendigo West, have an average waiting time less than twelve months.[3]

Since 2014, the waiting list has grown by 67%, according to the ADA.[4]

How does Australia fare for public dentist waiting lists?

StateAverage waiting time for 90% of patients
Queensland688 days (22.62 months)
Western Australia372 days (12.23 months)
South Australia610 days (20.05 months)
Tasmania896 days (29.46 months)
Source: A discussion of public dental waiting times information in Australia: 2013-14 to 2016-17. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018.

Please note: not all states had data available when the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare compiled their report, and of those states, not all of them had data available for 2016-2017.

It should also be noted that these figures are the average time only for general dental care, and different waiting times exist for denture care and emergency dental procedures. Furthermore, some people may be eligible for priority access and will not be put on a waiting list but be booked for the next available appointment. This is designed to provide accessible dental care for the community.

In Victoria, this group includes:

  • children and teenagers up to the age of 17
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • pregnant women
  • homeless people, people at risk of homelessness, refugees and asylum seekers
  • those who use mental health and disability services, and who have a letter of recommendation from their case manager.[5]

Long waits can exacerbate issues, with patients reportedly losing teeth at the dentist because they are at higher risk of developing dental diseases and tooth decay without care.[6]

Dentist gestures to model of teeth with patient

Dental cover and private health insurance

It should be noted that many dental patients in Australia don’t use the public system at all, whether the patient has private health insurance or not and has to foot the bill.[7] Annually, an estimated $7.3 billion is paid to dentists for treatment by private health funds or customers going privately, compared to $2.3 billion paid to the nation’s public sector dentists.[8]

However, if you do have health insurance that includes dental cover, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. There are waiting periods that can be set by the health insurer before you can start claiming, though typical waiting periods for dental cover according to the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman are:

  • two months for general dental care
  • twelve months for major dental operations.[9]

Furthermore, you may have to pay some costs out of pocket. Not all extras policies will cover the entire cost of seeing a dentist, and the difference between the cost of service and the coverage in your policy is known as the gap.

If you want to learn more about dental cover and private health insurance, you can discover more with our handy guide. Getting dental cover through an extras cover policy can help you take care of your teeth, without paying hefty upfront fees or waiting for extended periods of time.

[1] Victorian community health dentists take unprecedented strike action. Australian Dental Association. 2018.
[2] Statewide – Average time to treatment for general dental care – Quarterly Data. Victorian Agency for Health Information, Victoria State Government.
[3] Public Dental Waiting Times 2018. Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch. 2019.
[4] Victorian community health dentists take unprecedented strike action. Australian Dental Association. 2018.
[5] Annual Report: 2015-2016. Dental Health Services Victoria. 2016.
[6] Victorians lose their teeth as wait lists for public dentists blow out. Aisha Dow, The Age. 2018.
[7] A discussion of public dental waiting times information in Australia: 2013-14 to 2016-17. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2018.
[8] Dental Health Insurance. Private Healthcare Australia. 2019.
[9] Waiting periods for private health insurance. Private Health Insurance Ombudsman, Commonwealth Ombudsman. 2007.

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avatar of author: James McCay

Written by James McCay

James is a devoted husband, father, animal lover and history buff. He studied Creative and Professional Writing at QUT, and is often buried in a book. While he writes on a variety of topics, a personal favourite is cars and all things motoring. James hopes to make a positive difference for readers through his writing.

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