Reforming the mission of public dental services


F. A. C. Wright, Centre for Oral Health Strategy, NSW Health, 1 Mons Road, Westmead, NSW 2145, Australia

Tel.: +61 28821 4319

Fax: +61 28821 4302



Australia has a complex history of providing public dental services to its communities. From the early days of Colonial settlement, the provision of dental care to the Australian public has largely been driven and influenced by organized groups and associations of dentists. The Constitution of Australia, under Section 51 xxiii A, allows for the Commonwealth to provide for medical and dental services. Unlike the United Kingdom, however, dental services have not been embedded into a universal national health service agenda. In 1974, that the Australian Government through the Australian School Dental Program provided the first funding and national direction for public dental services – and that, limited to children. The Commonwealth Dental Health Program 1993–1997 was the second national endeavor to provide public dental services, this time to financially disadvantaged adults. Since that time, public dental service responsibility has been shuttled between States/Territories and the Commonwealth. A new paradigm for public dental services in Australia requires strong Commonwealth leadership, as well as the commitment of State and Territories and the organized dental profession. The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission provided the most recent scenario for a radical change in mission. This paper canvases the competing roles of strategic, functional, and structural issues in relationship to social network and policy issues, which must be recognized if Australians truly seek to reform public dental services.