Transcript - ABC Radio 702 with Richard Glover
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07 May 2012
Richard Glover: Minister, welcome to Drive.
Tanya Plibersek : Hi, Richard. How are you?
Richard Glover: Did you look after your teeth?
Tanya Plibersek: Oh, I've got a few fillings but I've got a very, very good dentist now, so I'm no longer frightened of going.
Richard Glover: The pain - the search for the painless dentist. It's been a long problem in the Australian health business, hasn't it? This way that Medicare looks after all our bodies except for one little bit.
Tanya Plibersek: Yeah. It - look, it's a strange anomaly that has a long history. And the way that we've dealt with it in the past is people on lower incomes have generally been eligible for treatment through state dental health systems but as you and your listeners probably know, those systems actually have very long waiting lists in most states and territories now.
So as part of this half a billion dollar boost that will be in the Budget on Tuesday, we're announcing almost $350 million to do a waiting list blitz on those waiting lists on the public dental systems, and then a whole range of other measures, including workforce measures that'll make it easier for people to see dentists in rural and regional areas and an oral health promotion campaign as well.
It's actually amazing if you talk to dentists today that a lot of kids have worse teeth than, you know, half a generation or a generation ago because we're drinking more sugared drinks, because we're eating more processed food, and in some cases because we're drinking more bottled water.
Richard Glover: I thought fluoride, it really helps things.
Tanya Plibersek: It has really - there's a big improvement when you put fluoride into the water, and then in more recent years we've seen a drop again, and it's I guess what you'd call lifestyle reasons - diet and people not caring for their teeth properly.
Richard Glover: Now, the dentists say this is all very well, but the trouble with doing it through the public clinics is - even with all this money you won't be able to attract the workforce, they say, to carry it out.
Tanya Plibersek: Well, actually, the dentists' organisations have been pretty supportive of this and we've worked very closely with them. We have invested a lot in training more dentists, and this package will include several workforce measures that will make it easier for us to place graduate dentists into the public dental system.
So I'm not concerned about the workforce measures at all. I mean, I think we will have the people to look after the teeth that we're talking about. We have to do it in partnership with dentists in the private sector, and that's perfectly proper.
Richard Glover: What about people who are not in the category that will be helped by this, who, you know, are perhaps - got slightly higher incomes that rule them out of this sort of benefit but still have got kids and the whole expense of going to see a dentist?
Tanya Plibersek: Well kids would - we have already got a Teen Dental Program that's provided assistance for more than one and a half million teenagers already to see dentists in the private sector, so that's a very important measure from previous Budgets.
But this is designed specifically as a blitz so that the public systems can work better and more effectively and include preventative work and much earlier treatment of people. Once we clear this backlog we hope that as long as the states and territories at least maintain their current effort - and I'll be making sure that they do - that their whole systems will work better. They'll be able to treat people much earlier on before their teeth get really bad. So you're talking about fillings rather than extractions for example.
The other thing I should say is we do have a commitment to look at further dental measures in the next Budget and down the track. I don't think that this package that we're merely announcing on Tuesday, it's a very important foundation for what we do in the future. But we're still open to further reform in this area.
Richard Glover: Why can't we just include it with Medicare so that a broken tooth is considered no different to a broken knee?
Tanya Plibersek: Well the - it - I guess this is taking steps in that direction, I think the dentists themselves would tell you that they've never been keen to be included in Medicare, and have been in the past a little bit nervous about the idea of just being, you know, just expanding Medicare.
So what we need to do is build up a public system and also work with dentists in the private sector to make sure that the 30 per cent or so of Australians who are missing out on good dental treatment at the moment, are able to get that good dental treatment that they need.
Richard Glover: I suppose one of the interesting things that's happened in the last five or 10 years is there's been a whole lot of new research showing how the health of our teeth and our gums are intimately connected with the rest of our physical health. The most I suppose astonishing bit is that your chance of getting a heart attack increases if your teeth are bad - because the bacteria in your mouth ends up putting a viral load on the rest of your body and can actually trigger you know heart problems which is a surprise I think to most of us.
But it's a stark reminder of the connection between the two and thus yet another sign of the confusion about why we separate them in this country.
Tanya Plibersek: Well look I think you've pointed out a really good thing, it is intrinsic to your good health to be ab… you know, that those more hidden links are becoming increasingly more apparent. Then there's the obvious thing that if you can't chew your food it's pretty hard to get decent nutrition.
But there's also a lot of social and economic problems that come from having poor teeth. It's pretty hard to get a job if the minute you open your mouth you've got, you know, teeth missing or, you know, in very poor condition.
It really does affect people. But… you know, being in society, whether it's looking for employment or just feeling confident in their everyday interactions, people so it is an important area of reform.
The - we got a dental advisory group to do a very important piece of work recently, and the high-end of their estimates for what it would cost to have a sort of Medicare dental was up to $15 billion over four years. So that's a really very… you know, we have to do better than we are but we have to do it in a way that's affordable for us as a community as well.
Richard Glover: All right. Well we'll see what happens in tomorrow's Budget. But thank you very much for your time this afternoon.
Tanya Plibersek: Thanks Richard.
Richard Glover: That's the Federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek. She's also the Member for Sydney as the Budget is - I mean, one of the leaks I guess from the Budget is $500 million to dental health.
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