Poor oral health putting hospitals under pressure

POOR oral health is placing a strain on Tasmania's emergency departments and general practitioners as well as wasting money, according to the state's peak dental body.

Tasmania has long had the worst adult oral health in the country, with a relatively low number of dentists compared with other states.

Australian Dental Association Tasmania branch president Nadia Dobromilsky said dental disease was a ``silent epidemic'', largely caused by a lack of access and affordability. ``The other issue in Tasmania is we don't have any after-hours public dentistry _ there is no funding to supply a dentist on the weekend or in the evening time and they're the only ones who can fix a toothache or a broken tooth after hours,'' she said.

Ms Dobromilsky said the lack of affordable access was placing a strain on hospitals and general practitioners.

``I would say that on a daily basis you have emergency clinics and GP clinics full of dental patients because patients cannot afford dental care,'' she said.

``It is a cost and a burden on the emergency departments, the GP clinics and also pharmaceuticals because that is the main way that a non-dental professional can treat oral disease _ via antibiotics and pharmaceuticals.

``So you have got this huge cost or waste of money compared to if the patients were able to go directly and get their problem fixed by a dental professional.''

She said many dental issues could not be treated by general practitioners and emergency departments, with untreated dental problems leading to a wider range of health problems.

``It is linked to chronic heart disease, diabetes, low birth-weight children and there are some casual links between other diseases,'' she said. ``People aren't getting regular, good dental care and that is adversely affecting their cardiovascular disease, their diabetes and their general health.''

The state government declined to comment yesterday.