EVEN through there are more Australians living longer and more of them are retaining their own teeth, this doesn't mean teeth health in older Australians is improving.
This increase in population is adding further pressure to public dental health services. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare also reports up to two-thirds of older adults are financially disadvantaged, which can lead to affordability issues when accessing timely and appropriate dental care.
One group trying to make a dent in a ongoing battle of costs, availability and accessibility is the Australian Dental Health Foundation.
Chairman David Owen says its focus is on offering full-quality, pro-bono dental services to less-advantaged Australians through several programs. It started in 2008 with a focus on indigenous and rural communities, but has since then broadened its reach through its programs.
Community Service Grants
With assistance funding from the American company Wrigley Foundation, these grants are given to volunteer dentists and dental students who take health initiatives into their communities.
This program helps people recover the use of their mouths. "Our first target audience is victims of domestic violence," Mr Owen said. This program, which has been going for about 18 months, receives its applications from DV support agencies.
Dental Rescue Days
Dentists nominate to open their practice for half a day or full day to provide free services to people who have been identified by support agencies as needing dental services.
Adopt a Patient
Where a person needs more than a single dental visit, a dentist may then 'adopt' the patient and continue their treatment until the problem is fixed.
"We are only a relatively small foundation and if we make too bigger promise, we are not going to be able to service things," Mr Owen said. "So, we are building up a skill and knowledge base as to how to deliver these services to all sorts of areas throughout Australia."
The ADHF provides scholarships for indigenous students to pursue oral health therapy and dental hygiene education which they can then ultimately practice within their local indigenous community. In 2018 five study grants have been awarded.
The ADHF is still developing its people and funding resources through the support of the Australian Dental Association and its members. Mr Owen knows that at some stage the foundation will have a solid enough base to look at further developing its existing programs and take on more programs that benefit the community. "As we progress, it will speed up very rapidly I believe," Mr Owen said.
To find out more about the foundation and which agencies are referring patients to participating dentists, go to: www.adhf.org.au.