Rising cost of living impacting dental care

A new survey reveals that almost 71% of Australians are delaying dental treatments in a bid to manage household budgets amid the rising cost of living.

The survey of 1008 Australians was commissioned by the online dental comparison and booking platform, AirSmile.

Presenting respondents with 12 of the most common dental treatments, AirSmile found that people were more likely to delay what they think to be the least essential services. Checks and cosmetic work topped the list, followed by non-urgent dental treatments and pain-related treatment.

43% of respondents said they would delay check-ups and dental cleans; 40% would delay cosmetic dentistry, such as whitening or veneers; and 32% would delay teeth straightening, such as braces.

The survey also reveals that a sizable proportion of Aussies would also delay important treatment for dental issues that were not causing pain. Almost 31% would delay the removal of a non-painful wisdom tooth; 30%the removal of a non-painful tooth; 28% would delay dental crowns or bridges.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, fewer respondents would delay treatment for dental issues that caused pain or were likely to worsen. 22% would delay fillings; 21% root canals; 17% fixing a cracked tooth; 12% treatment for a painful tooth.

According to AirSmile, the younger the age group, the more likely they are to delay dental work: 81% of 18-34-year-olds would delay dental work compared to 73% of 35-64-year-olds and 50% of over-645s.

“I am concerned that some patients this year are beginning to skimp on dental services. On more than one occasion, I have had patients ask me to extract, rather than save, a tooth to avoid the costs of treatment,” says Dr Heath Fraser, dental surgeon, cosmetic dentist and AirSmile founder.

“While this phenomenon is due to incomes being increasingly stretched as inflation impacts household finances, it is ironic, as dental costs have not increased in line with other goods and services.

“You can still get a consultation from $85, a consult with a dental clean from $140, and a crown from $1300. With a good health insurance policy, patients can get up to 60-80% off these bills,” he says.

However, while health insurance theoretically helps with managing costs, according to the survey 41% of respondents believe that health insurance with dental rebates makes no difference in the affordability of their dental care.

“Aussies may be deprioritising dental to ease their personal financial stress but delaying dental appointments can have serious health implications if a dental issue goes undetected,” says Dr Fraser.

“Poor oral health has been linked to health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and risk of stroke. It is important for Aussies to maintain regular dental checks and treatments to improve their overall health and wellbeing.”

Dr Fraser’s tips for affordable dental treatment

  1. Look for no-gap dentists. “As many insurance policies have caps on the cost you can claim back, treatments often leave patients with out-of-pocket expenses. Dental clinics operating with a ‘no gaps’ dental policy cover this extra amount, ensuring that as a patient you won’t have to pay any extra expenses for dental treatments. Your health insurer will have a list of no gap dentists in your city.”
  2. Shop around to find health cover with a good dental rebate. “Rebates can vary considerably between insurance providers. To ensure you are receiving the best value for your circumstances, health insurance comparison websites can show you the policies with the strongest offerings. NIB, for instance, provides a full rebate on general medical treatments such as periodic oral examination, with a scale, clean and fluoride treatment, at up to $450 per year.” 
  3. Get on a payment plan or access your super. “Many dentists offer a buy-now-pay-later option for larger bills. You may also be eligible to access your superannuation to fund urgent dental treatments, including braces, crowns, implants, orthodontics, and periodontics.”
  4. Budgeting. “Putting money aside for essential medical services such as dentistry should be as much of a priority as budgeting for other fundamentals like a house deposit or car. The average dental checkup in Sydney is $200. Foregoing two café-bought coffees every week and putting away the extra $8 should cover two trips to the dentist every year, without any private insurance. Cutting down on smoking or alcohol consumption is another great way to put dental money aside – a replacement that is much better for your health.”
  5. Ask for a discount.“Dentists may be sympathetic to your need for healthcare on a tight budget. It could also be worth asking if they offer discounts for referring a friend, or for cash payments.”
  6. Shop around to find the most competitive dental services.“Free marketplace comparison platforms are growing across a plethora of consumer services – including dental. Comparison websites and booking services such as AirSmile source quotes from local dental clinics and enable you to book your appointment.”
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