Call for growth in rural dental services

Published 11 February 2009

skd284147sdcLeading researchers and policy makers in oral health have confirmed that living in a rural area is one of the two greatest risk factors – along with economic disadvantage – for poor oral health in Australia.

Attending a national Rural Oral Health Symposium at Shepparton in Victoria late last year, they drafted a declaration (the “Shepparton Declaration on Improving Oral Health for Rural Australians”) that calls on governments to increase the number of oral health professionals in rural and regional areas.

The Declaration also urges governments to increase support for universities to provide dental students with rural experience and training.

One of the speakers at the Shepparton symposium, Professor Victor Minichiello, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Faculty of The Professions at the University of New England, said that a recent proposal by UNE to recruit and retain dentists in rural communities was “something that deserves attention by both State and Federal governments”.

Professor Minichiello, an advocate for rural health, presented statistics revealing that there were 55 dentists per 100,000 people in metropolitan NSW while only 17 dentists per 100,000 people in rural and regional NSW. These average figures mean that there is one dentist per 1,818 people in the cities while only one dentist per 5,588 people in country areas.

“New and collaborative modes of networked practice among professionals are required,” Professor Minichiello said. “These include better use of communication technologies, new methods of education, and the development of a critical mass of academic teaching staff closely engaged with rural professionals.”

The convener of the symposium, Associate Professor Rodrigo Mariño from the University of Melbourne, said that many delegates had been deeply concerned about growing disadvantages in oral health in rural and regional areas and the unmet needs of these communities, and had called for new approaches to address the grave oral health disparities between rural and metropolitan Australia.

He said government support was urgently needed for initiatives such as allowing dental therapists to practise some dental procedures, expanding fluoridation into more rural areas, and encouraging dental graduates to practise in rural and regional areas.

The 120 delegates to the symposium, held on the Shepparton campus of the University of Melbourne, heard that hospital admissions of children for preventable dental conditions were, in some rural communities, nearly seven times more than in some metropolitan areas. The Declaration calls on governments to address the urgent need to improve access to dental services for Indigenous communities, and implement long-term funding for programs in those communities. It also urges governments to include oral health as an intrinsic part of overall health reform strategies.

A copy of the Shepparton Declaration can be obtained at: http://www.crcoralhealthscience.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=337&Itemid=383

For more information, contact Professor Victor Minichiello on 02 67 73 3862 or 0400 421 352, or Associate Professor Rodrigo Mariño on 03 9341 1558.