Report recommends improvements for access to dental services

INNOVATIVE modes of service delivery are needed to ensure people in regional and rural areas receive adequate, affordable dental care, a parliamentary committee has found.

A report by the House of Representatives Health Committee, which was tabled on Monday, contained 13 recommendations to improve access to public dental services.

The committee's recommendations covered a range of issues including the improvement of the interaction between the public and private dental sectors; a greater focus on the delivery of preventive dental services, and a long-term commitment to funding public dental services.

During its four-month inquiry the committee received 46 submissions and held four public hearings.

Among the many issues raised was the challenges people in regional and rural areas faced in receiving adequate dental care.

The committee heard people in these areas faced a geographic challenge in accessing appropriate dental care, increasing the likelihood of dental disease irrespective of socioeconomic or other risk factors.

The committee heard 38% of rural and regional residents had unfavourable visiting patterns compared to 27% people living in cities.

"Issues such as the cost of and access to transport, and minimising visits and waiting times must be key considerations in providing regional services," the report found.

The dental workforce is lacking in much of regional Australia, the committee found.

Committee chairwoman Jill Hall said that poor dental health could have significant impacts on a person's quality of life, causing pain and social anxieties about appearance.

"Many Australians face difficulties in accessing public dental treatment," Ms Hall said.

"Long waiting lists for public dental services in many areas lead to lengthy delays. People living in rural, regional and remote Australia often have to travel long distances to access dental treatment."