Why do so many Mildura residents have dental disease?

by Stephen Duckett

Published by Sunraysia DailyMonday 25 July

Mildura has one of the highest rates of hospital admissions for dental disease in Victoria.

After examining hospital admission data over 10 years, setting a threshold of rates that are 50 per cent higher than the state average to identify “hot spots”, the Grattan Institute has found that Mildura was above that threshold every year from 2004-05 to 2013-14 (the most recent year of data).

On average, over that decade people from Mildura were admitted to hospital for dental treatment at twice the Victorian average.

Grattan Institute’s report, Perils of Place: Identifying hotspots of health inequalities, calls on local Primary Health Networks to work with communities such as Mildura to identify the reasons for high rates of hospital admissions for potentially preventable conditions such as dental disease.

Because there is no uniform pattern for the causes of high rates of potentially preventable hospitalisations, local, tailored policy responses are required.

Of course, some dental conditions, such as removal of impacted teeth for young kids, might not be preventable. But some are preventable with better dental care in the community, or through public health measures.

Mildura’s high rates of hospital admission for dental disease might be because its water wasn’t fluoridated until 2010.

Water fluoridation has been shown to improve dental hygiene, and fluoride has been in Melbourne’s water supply for the past 40 years.

Another reason for the high rates of admissions might be that people can’t get to a dentist because of cost.

Mildura residents aren’t alone – one in five Australians report that they have missed or deferred seeing a dentist for cost reasons.

Medicare doesn’t cover dental care and national public programs are not universal – they only cover specific sub-groups.

Whatever the reason, and however good existing services may be, more needs to be done to reduce these persistently high rates of admission for what should be preventable conditions.

This might mean further dental programs in schools, it might be community education about dental hygiene.

Our report calls on the newly formed Primary Health Networks, such as the Murray Primary Health Network, to work with local communities to understand why some have such high rates of hospital admissions, and to develop programs to do something about it.