Report of the National Advisory Council on Dental Health

Appendix J - Pro-Bono Services Provided by Dental Practitioners

The National Advisory Council on Dental Health (the Council) was established as a time-limited group to provide strategic, independent advice on dental health issues, as requested by Minister for Health and Ageing, to the Government. The Council’s priority task was to provide advice on dental policy options and priorities for consideration in the 2012-13 Budget.

Page last updated: 03 September 2012

      Dental practitioners provide a range of pro–bono services across the country. These are provided in various geographic areas and target different social groups depending on the needs of the particular community. The dental profession is supportive of volunteer work in order to ensure that Australians in need are able to receive appropriate dental care.

      It is not possible to calculate with precision the dollar value of dental practitioners’ pro–bono work. Any such calculation must recognise that the benefits are not only to the patients’ immediate oral health, but that it flows on to impact on their overall health and mental wellbeing. Assistance in patients’ oral health also has a positive bearing on patients’ self–esteem, work, family and community relationships.

      Dental practitioners appropriately provide a range of pro–bono assistance, commensurate with their capacity and resources. The profession has and will always aim to provide oral health care to those in the community that are most in need. The kind of assistance dentists provide ranges from:

      • delivering services within their own clinic to provide pro–bono / free dental services. In this situations, it is dental practitioner themselves that pay for the running costs of the practice, thus receiving no other compensatory benefit; to
      • dental practitioners providing their time to perform a dental service or an educational function – this is a donation of time, which dental practitioners could otherwise be dedicating to seeing patients at commercial rates.

      Current activities

      The National Dental Foundation coordinates some pro–bono work in most states and territories, providing services through charities to those individuals in need of dental care who would otherwise be unable to afford it. This organisation receives funding from a range of sources in order to undertake this work.122 A primary aim of the Foundation is to coordinate the involvement of all parties who are involved in philanthropic work within the Australian dental industry.123

      122 National Dental Foundation
      123 Shane Fryer, pers. comm. 09/02/2012.

      Filling the Gap provide services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through a partnership with Wuchopperen Health Services in Cairns. Volunteer dentists and hygienists provide the services.124

      124 Filling the Gap

      The School of Dentistry at the University of Adelaide began a community outreach project in 2009 to provide education and clinical services to Adelaide residents, in particular vulnerable and disparate people in the community. This project has also involved research to identify the needs of the community, as well as funding for capital works. However, it has identified that ongoing funding is required to ensure remuneration for management staff.

      Additionally, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) supports pro–bono work by dentists. They have identified a range of schemes and arrangements whereby dentists undertake pro–bono work:

      • ‘Give a Smile’ (GAS) is the charitable arm of the Australian Society of Orthodontists. GAS orthodontists treat public patients requiring orthodontic treatment. Their treatment takes approximately two years. This reduces pressure from public waiting lists – these patients are treated privately.
      • Volunteer dentists treat refugees through the Tzu Chi Foundation.
      • Pro–bono services provided to clients of various charities.

      While dental practitioners may provide these services at no cost, the services themselves are not free; instead, there are a range of costs (i.e. infrastructure, consumable materials, etc.) that must be funded. These costs are generally covered by grants from research organisations and universities. The ability for pro–bono activities to continue is constrained by the availability of this funding – without it the programs and those like it are likely to be unsustainable in the longer term.