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How to make dental services more accessible and inclusive for people with disability

Brooke Canham, Policy Officer at Inclusion Australia explains what was included in the joint submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Access to Dental Services in Australia.

In March 2023, the Australian Senate established the Select Committee into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia.

The Committee wanted to hear from all Australians, including people with disability, about what makes it hard to get dental care and how to make dental services more accessible and inclusive.

Inclusion Australia contributed to a joint submission and made recommendations to the Committee about what needs to change.

Brooke Canham, Policy Officer at Inclusion Australia explains what was included in the submission and her thoughts on accessing dental care.

Who did we write the submission with?

This submission was written with a few organsations including: Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO), Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), Down Syndrome Australia and Inclusion Australia.

Who did they write the submission for?

The submission was for the Inquiry into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia.

What did the Inquiry want to look at?

How people use dental services and what is stopping people getting the dental care they need.

What did we tell the government?

We wanted to tell the Government about the issues and how hard it is for people with a disability to access  the dental care they need. Dental problems can lead to other types of health issues and can make you feel very unwell.

Why do people with disability have a hard time accessing dental care?

It can be a long wait to get an appointment. This can be very hard if you are in pain or need to see someone quickly. It costs too much to receive dental care. It can also be very hard to get to the dentist if you live on your own and need to be at your appointment at a set time.

What did we say about the other barriers people face to getting the dental care they need?

That there isn’t enough information about what dental care is and what dental treatment you might need. There is not much information about dental care specifically for people with disability in Australia.

A barrier is also the affordability of dental services.

Why do people with disability find going to the dentist frustrating? 

  • It costs too much.
  • There can be long waits and they don’t tell you how long your appointment will go for.
  • You spend too much time in the dental chair. This can be frustrating for some people as there may have other health issues.
  • The information isn’t broken down in a way for people to easily understand. You often have to look to your support person for help which can be frustrating as some people go to the dentist independently.

What do we want the government to do?

  • To make it easier for people with disability to afford dental services.
  • To spend more money training dentists about how to work with patients with disability.
  • To start collecting information about people with disability who get dental care.

What are some of your own experiences at the dentist?

I feel like you need to have a connection with your dentist so you can talk about what they are going to be doing. I need to be comfortable with the way they communicate with me and how they ask me questions throughout my dental procedure.

I go to a dentist in Perth which is government owned, and I get free dental checkups but there is always a waitlist. This dentist specialises in people with disability.

It is easier for me to look at things like flyers and factsheets when I go to the dentist, especially if it includes diagrams on what they are going to do. On paper is easier than showing me on a phone or laptop.

What do you think is the biggest thing that needs to change to make sure people can access dental care?

That it is affordable because people with disability will go to the dentist without having the stress of paying too much for the services.

Having Easy Read documents so it is easier for people to understand information before they have their dental treatment. This will make the person feel calmer and want to come back to have more dental care in the future.

What do you think the most important part of our submission is?

  • To make things more affordable for people with disability to access dental care.
  • Dentists need to be educated on how to understand someone with disability, including the best ways to communicate.
  • To have accessible Easy Read information about dental care.

You can read the Easy Read submission here: Dental Care Joint Submission – Easy Read

Find the full submission here: Joint submission access to dental care.pdf