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New research reveals 1 in 2 Aussies have poor oral hygiene habits

7 min read
1 Aug 2019

You know how it is: it’s late at night, you want to get to bed, and you think one more night without flossing your teeth can’t be too bad.

Well, it turns out you’re not alone, according to our recent survey of an independent, nationally representative panel of 1,007 Australians.[1]

This new research reveals more than half of Aussies have poor oral hygiene habits, with a lack of flossing a common offence. Specifically, an alarming 82% of respondents admitted they didn’t floss regularly.

What other bad dental habits do Australians have?

It’s no surprise that the younger we are, the more we give in to our sweet tooth. More than half (54%) of under 35s confessed that they had sweets at least three times a week compared with 42% of over-55s.

The survey also revealed that half of surveyed Aussies have two or more teeth fillings, and it would seem we continue to add fillings the older we get. A whopping 64% of people over 55 years old said they had two or more fillings.

Graph of percentage of people by age group who have two or more fillings

Can poor oral hygiene affect your health?

Poor oral hygiene can lead to painful diseases like tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer, all of which could cause illness and even death.[2] During 2016-17, there were approximately 70,200 hospitalisations for dental conditions that could’ve been prevented by early treatment.[3]

Research by The Australian Dental Association (ADA) revealed that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in Australia.4 Reducing the prevalence of this disease should be as simple as adopting good dental habits and seeking treatment when needed.

Young couple sitting on shop floor eating junk food

So why don’t we seek dental treatment sooner?

Unfortunately, over half (58%) of dental costs are directly paid from your pocket compared with just 11% of out-of-pocket costs for primary medical care[4] provided by general practitioners, nurses and other allied health providers.[5] The unfortunate truth is that Medicare doesn’t offer rebates for most dental treatments, which can leave many individuals with significant out-of-pocket expenses if they’re without private health cover.

With private health insurance, though, you may receive a rebate for dental treatment through extras cover. How much that rebate may be will depend on your level of insurance, according to our resident health expert, Anthony Fleming.

‘Some providers may offer cover for not only regular check-ups (as well as fluoride treatment and scaling) but also for major dental treatments like root canals and wisdom teeth extractions.

‘Therefore, it’s vital to choose a policy that suits your budget, lifestyle and needs, and can give you perks where necessary to cut costs for you and your family,’ he said.

Woman handing credit card to medial receptionist to pay for appointment

Our top 10 tips for good dental habits (and how to get affordable treatment)

There are many good dental habits you can pick up now that’ll help improve your oral health and prevent poor oral hygiene. Doing so doesn’t need to break your bank account. In fact, here are 10 ways you could potentially save on dental treatment.

1. Get no-cost check-ups through your health insurer

Some providers may offer up to two free preventative dental services a year – these include check-ups, cleaning and fluoride treatments.[6] Find out how many visits you’re covered for under your policy, then use your membership card at your fund’s no-gap dentist – a dentist who has an agreement with your fund to not charge more than what you’re covered for – to receive your benefit!

2. Take advantage of those check-ups as often as you can

Regularly visiting your dentist for a check-up is essential for your oral health.[7] How frequently you have to visit your dentist may depend on things like your age and dental history. Your dentist can advise you on how regularly you should go for a check-up.[8]

3. Does your health insurer offer freebies for kids?

Some family health insurance policies offer up to two complimentary dental check-ups for children, so it’s worth finding out if your provider does the same.[9] Government benefits of $1,000 for dental services over two years are also available for children aged two to 17 if your family receives the Family Tax Benefit Part A.[10] These benefits may include examinations through to root canals.

4. Floss your teeth

Don’t become another statistic in our survey! Kick those bad dental habits and start flossing your teeth daily, which will prevent plaque build-up.8 The Better Health Channel recommends flossing slowly and gently using saw-like motions.[11]

5. Brush your teeth thoroughly and regularly

You should try to brush your teeth at least twice a day, and spend about two to three minutes doing so.11 Using fluoride toothpaste will help harden your tooth enamel and thus reduce your risk of tooth decay and poor oral hygiene.

Young smiling girl brushing her teeth

6. Avoid sugary foods and acidic drinks

Acidic drinks like soft drinks and fruit juices can break down tooth enamel, which leads to cavities, while sugary foods can cause tooth decay.[12]

7. Consider greater annual spending limits for your policy

Annual dental spend limits (i.e. the dollar value of how much treatment you can claim on) are just as important as the price you pay each month when it comes to your health insurance. This is especially true if you think you’ll need major dental work in the future. Some health insurers offer upwards of $1,000 in annual limits for major dental procedures; such as tooth extractions, oral surgery and dentures.[13]

8. Choose a policy with greater rebates

If you think you’ll only require minor or preventative dental, a higher rebate (i.e. the amount your health insurer refunds you for your treatment costs) could be better value for your money than a higher annual spend limit. Some policies offer rebates such as 75% of the total bill for up to $1,500 per person,[14] while others provide a fixed amount (e.g. $145) for a check-up.[15]

9. Check to see if you’re eligible for free government dental care

Eligibility for publicly-funded dental care may differ between the states and territories; for example, in New South Wales, all children under 18 years of age can receive free general dental services, such as check-ups and fluoride and cavity treatment. [16] If you’re an adult with a Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card or Health Care Card, you may also be eligible for publicly-funded dental procedures.[17]

10. Compare health insurance and prices to help pay those dentist bills

Dental bills can be expensive, especially since the cost of dental services can vary significantly between dentists. Find a deal that suits your back pocket (and teeth!) by doing your research and shopping around through our comparison service.

Why not even ask your dentist if they have any discounts or offers for customers with dental cover? You might save a few dollars!

Sources:
[1] Survey conducted by Pureprofile in June 2019
[2] Australian Dental Association, ‘Australia’s Adult Oral Health Tracker’ (2018): https://www.ada.org.au/Dental-Professionals/Australia-s-Oral-Health-Tracker/Australia-s-Oral-Health-Tracker-Adults/ADA_AHPC_oralhealthtracker2018_adults_08032018.aspx
[3] Australian Government, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ‘Oral health and dental care in Australia’: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dental-oral-health/oral-health-and-dental-care-in-australia/contents/hospitalisations
[4] Grattan Institute, ‘Two million Australians delay or don’t go to the dentist- here’s how we can fix that’: https://grattan.edu.au/news/two-million-australians-delay-or-dont-go-to-the-dentist-heres-how-we-can-fix-that/
[5] Australian Government, Department of Health, ‘Primary Health Care in Australia’: https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/NPHC-Strategic-Framework~phc-australia
[6] Medibank, ‘Members’ Choice Advantage’: https://www.medibank.com.au/health-insurance/why-medibank/members-choice/dentists-network/, HCF, ‘No-Gap Dental on Basic Extras’: https://www.hcf.com.au/MFTbasic and AHM, ‘No gap dental check-ups at selected dentists’: https://ahm.com.au/health-insurance/no-gap-dental-check-ups
[7] Queensland Government, ‘Keep a healthy smile’: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/oralhealth/healthy_smile
[8] Australian Government, Department of Health (Healthdirect), ‘Dental care tips’: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dental-care-tips
[9] Medibank, ‘Members’ Choice Advantage’: https://www.medibank.com.au/health-insurance/why-medibank/members-choice/dentists-network/, HCF, ‘No-Gap Dental on Basic Extras’: https://www.hcf.com.au/MFTbasic and AHM, ‘No gap dental check-ups at selected dentists’: https://ahm.com.au/health-insurance/no-gap-dental-check-ups
[10] Department of Health, The Child Dental Benefits Schedule, 2018: https://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/childdental
[11] Victorian State Government, Better Health Channel, ’10 tips to look after your teeth’: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ten-tips/10-tips-to-look-after-your-teeth
[12] Australian Government, Department of Health (Healthdirect), ‘How to cut down on sugar’: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/cutting-down-on-sugars
[13] HCF, ‘Vital Extras Product Summary’: https://www.hcf.com.au/pdf/brochures/HCF-Vital-Extras.pdf, Bupa, ‘Top Extras 90 health insurance’: https://www.bupa.com.au/health-insurance/cover/top-extras-90 and Medibank, ‘Top Extras’: https://www.medibank.com.au/health-insurance/cover/top-extras/?claimbackid=ETR55&scale=S (Waiting periods may apply)
[14] CUA, Health Insurance, Extras Cover: https://www.cua.com.au/health-insurance/extras-cover
[15] AHM, ‘Super Extras’: https://static.ahm.com.au/files/products/super-extras.pdf
[16] NSW Government, Centre for Oral Health Strategy, ‘NSW Public Dental Services’: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/oralhealth/publications/public-dental-services.pdf
[17] NSW Public Oral Health Department

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avatar of author: Claire Rosenberg

Written by Claire Rosenberg

Claire has a penchant for a catchy headline and believes almost everything can be improved with a pun. First in line at any buffet table, Claire’s strategy to her meals mirrors her work ethic: planning is everything. She’s a mid century modern enthusiast, and will often be found trawling for retro treasures or perfecting her tiki cocktail making skills.

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