3 Tips for Cutting the Cost of Dental Treatment

Posted on: 12 September 2016

Unlike most medical procedures, dental treatment in Australia is not covered by Medicare, the universal health insurance scheme available to all citizens and permanent residents. This means that for the 40% of Australians not covered by private health insurance, visiting the dentist for a check-up or procedure can be very expensive. Almost half the adult population delays or avoids visiting the dentist due to cost, despite the clear importance of keeping your pearly whites healthy and clean. So, if you need dental treatment and can't afford it, what can you do? Here are three ways of getting seated in the dentist's chair without breaking the bank.

1. Federal government assistance

Despite dental services not being covered by Medicare, the Commonwealth Government does provide some assistance for certain groups of people needing to access dental services. The Child Dental Benefits Schedule, administered by the Department of Human Services, provides coverage for children aged between 2 and 17 years, to the tune of $1,000 every two years. No special application is required for this assistance, so ask your local dentist if they participate in the scheme.  

The government also provides a rebate for singles and families who purchase private health insurance. Even if you don't think you can afford insurance in the long term, the waiting period for pre-existing conditions to be covered by insurers is only 12 months. Depending on the cost of the dental procedure you require, you may find that taking out insurance for 12 months and claiming the government rebate works out cheaper than paying for the treatment upfront.

2. Public dental health system

The public system provides free or low-cost dental and denture services to low income earners who hold an approved concession card. The public dental health system in Australia is run by state governments, so the type and level of care provided varies from state to state. Some state governments provide more comprehensive care than others. For example, Victorian concession card holders are eligible for a range of services, from regular check-ups to root canal treatment, while residents of the ACT who hold concession cards are only able to access restorative care. If you hold a concession card issued by Centrelink, contact your state's health department to find out what you are entitled to.

Keep in mind that there may be a long wait to be treated in the public system - in some states, the waiting list is as long as three years.

3. Dental tourism

Stories abound of Australians receiving quotes of tens of thousands of dollars to have their teeth fixed by local dentists, and receiving the same standard of care in overseas dental clinics for a fraction of the cost. Medical tourism is on the rise in Australia, with favoured destinations including nearby Thailand and Malaysia, where patients can have a holiday and receive treatment at the same time. 

However, the Australian Dental Association warns against the risks of dental tourism, saying that overseas practitioners are not subject to the same stringent regulations as Australian dentists, and there can be little recourse if things go wrong. For these reasons, CHOICE, the consumer affairs watchdog, suggests contacting 'medical tourism agencies' based here in Australia who can liaise with the overseas providers on your behalf.

The sight of a dentist's bill can leave you reeling, but this doesn't mean that dental treatment needs to be delayed or avoided. By considering the federal and state government assistance available to you, and looking at overseas options, you could be in the dentist's chair, getting the treatment you need, faster than you think.