• access;
  • Australia;
  • children;
  • dental care;
  • dental care;
  • inequality;
  • polarization;
  • public dental care

Abstract –  The objectives of this paper are to give a brief description of the Australian context for its dental care services and to discuss some of the nationally recognized issues in access to dental care with special reference to the situation in the most populous state, New South Wales. Australia is the size of continental USA but with only around 21 million people, 85% of whom reside within 50 km of the coastline. Thus, access to health care has a strong urban–rural dimension. The universal healthcare coverage excludes dental care, 80–90% of which is delivered through traditional fee-for-service private dental care. A public dental care system exists with varying eligibility criteria from state to state, mostly directed at children, low-income individuals, pensioners, and defined disadvantaged groups. Thus, access to dental care also has a strong socioeconomic dimension with disadvantaged people having serious access problems and extensive waiting times. Government and other reports have documented considerable polarization issues both in oral health and in access to dental care. Suggested change strategies have ranged from broad political changes in the dental care system to local oral health promotion initiatives, but overall, dental care remains a pawn in state–commonwealth political squabbles. In response to strong public reactions documented shortcomings of the public dental care system the government of New South Wales has recently initiated a political inquiry into dental care. Unless new resources are injected and policy adjustments made, serious changes are unlikely.