Dental disgrace: year-long waits for an appointment

IPSWICH public dental patients are facing huge waits for a check-up, with one dentistry expert saying patients can wait more than a year for an appointment.

Figures released by the State Government show more than 2700 people are waiting for general dental treatment at the Ipswich Dental Clinic.

More than 120 patients have waited for five months or more to see a dentist and QT readers have reported waiting more than a year to get into the dentist's chair.

Queensland Dental Association president and Ipswich resident Dr Andrew Wong confirmed it was possible for non-urgent patients to wait more than a year for an appointment.

Dr Wong said the problem was simply that demand for the dental clinic's services far exceeded supply.

He said 43% of Queensland's population of 4.6 million people are eligible for public dental clinic services, but there are only just over 200 dentists employed by Queensland Health across the state.

"People with toothache and fractures of the jaw will be seen within 24 to 48 hours," he said.

"But for general treatment like check-ups and routine scaling and cleaning, it can be quite a lengthy wait for treatment - sometimes years.

"The demand far out strips the ability to meet that demand. There's a lack of supply and high demand causing these waiting list problems."

Waiting times throughout the state differ in each area, depending on the number of people eligible for the service, Dr Wong said.

The statistics show 24% of Ipswich patients are seen within the recommended time.

A West Moreton Hospital and Health Service spokesman said that in emergency cases patients are generally seen within 24 hours.

The introduction of a call centre has improved efficiency, which will be rolled out across the health service next year.

"Currently, all category one emergencies, the most severe cases, are seen within the required 24 hour time frame," the spokesman said. "Oral health services have also implemented rigorous staff training to ensure patients are allocated to the most appropriate wait list category to ensure their needs can be best met within the required timeframe."

Dr Wong has put three solutions to Health Minister Lawrence Springborg to tackle the massive wait.

They include asking the Federal Government to release funding, to hire more dentists and to out-source services to the private sector.

Queensland provides a third of all of Australia's public health dentistry and the service is free.

Dodging the Dentist

ONE in five people experiencing problems with their teeth either put off seeing a dentist or did not go at all in the past year because of the costs involved, an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey has revealed.

The 2011-12 Patient Experience survey revealed people aged 25 to 34 were the most likely (31%) to avoid visiting a dentist due to cost factors.

This compared with just 5% of people aged 75 years and over.

Overall the figures showed 49% of all Australians aged 15 and over visited a dental professional in the past 12 months.

Of that number 90% went to a private dental clinic on their most recent visit, while 9% visited a public dental clinic.

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