Speech: Dental Benefits Amendment Bill

Speech: Dental Benefits Amendment Bill Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (5:33): [by video link] In debate on the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2021, I'm
pleased to stand in support of the recommended expansion of Labor's Child Dental Benefits Schedule with the
removal of the lower age eligibility limit, thus opening the Child Dental Benefits Scheme to infants aged zero
to two years.

It was the Gillard Labor government's Dental Health Reform Package, nine years ago this month,
that ensured basic dental services be made available through the Commonwealth to every qualifying child aged between two and 17 and, additionally, the child's parent, carer or guardian. The Child Dental Benefits Scheme has provided over $2.3 billion in benefits through more than 38 million services to over three million Australian children.

Now, if that doesn't put some bright into white, I'm not sure what will!

However, there is more potential here for every Australian child, indeed, from the day they are born. With a review of the Dental Benefits Act in 2019, a recommendation was put forward to lower the current eligibility from age two to one. Wonderfully, however, within that time, with stakeholder feedback, the review advised a strong preference for removing the lower age eligibility restriction altogether. By removing the lower age eligibility, it is estimated an additional 300,000 children will become eligible for the program.

Having dental care for infants and toddlers is crucial. Babies are born with 20 primary, deciduous or baby teeththat usually start to come through their gums by the age of six months. All teeth have usually appeared by theage of two or three years, emphasising that care for children's teeth commences well before their teeth arrive.With the appearance of teeth, instantly decay becomes a possibility. I'm reliably informed that one of the most serious forms of tooth decay occurs in babies when feeding from bottles containing sugary drinks, such as fresh fruit juice, for when left in contact with teeth, sugary drinks of any sort will cause decay because the sugar is converted to acid that dissolves the tooth enamel. Prevention is always better than cure, and this bill will help to deliver a positive initial dental experience for more Australian kids and help to curb the unfortunate negative stigma around dental practitioners and oral hygiene.

Speaking of cures, I would like to share with the House some success stories through my electorate office with constituents who were in dire need of overdue dental care. But I do want to start by acknowledging the work of all our dentists and oral healthcare workers. They do highly important work in these very difficult times and the government needs to support them better. My office has seen case after case of people applying through the adult public dental scheme—applying and reapplying—all because of government's cuts to adult public dental funding. The consequence is less availability of adult public dental services on the New South Wales South Coast. Waiting periods of four months are common, and not for a routine appointment, no, this is for urgent dental work.

In the case of Mr Leonard Matthews, a resident of Sanctuary Point, he had been waiting three years for denture moulds—three years! It is difficult to imagine the distress that caused, because dentures are a very big necessity. Mr Matthews' son, David, said: A massive shout out to member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips. My 88 year old father hasn't had his teeth fixed in 3 years. Finally after months of pain rang the members office and within a few hours found out why (paperwork lost) this happened and then sent a voucher to see a dentist ASAP. I’m so thankful and impressed with her and staff for being so caring and quick to sort this problem. Some politicians do have a go and care for their community.

Glen Harlum from Sussex Inlet, when seeking his appointment, said 'anywhere would do' between Nowra and Ulladulla. NSW Health contacted him saying he remains on a wait list for access to services and was informed if he experiences any pain that there is a way to get access to urgent dental services. But as he is not in pain at the time, he will have to wait.

The list is long.

Constituent, Mr David Lawton of Bomaderry, age 79, received advice through the Illawarra Shoalhaven local health district that an appointment would be made. This application then expired after four months, with no appointment having been generated. Then, if you could believe it, Mr Lawton was advised he would need to reapply and would have to wait another four months! The federal government's cuts to adult public dental care is nothing short of appalling to which the government should be totally ashamed.