A DECISION to cut dental funding for chronically ill Australians will be felt at the local level, a Croydon dental surgeon says.
Patients who have been receiving up to $4250 of dental care every two years will now have to rely on public dental schemes after the federal government slashed the $1 billion per year Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme.
From July 2014, the government will provide a further $1.3 billion to improve public dental services. Until then, locals will rely on state schemes that provide as little as $34.46 a year of treatment for each eligible patient.
Croydon dentist Dr Sue Patel says her patients will feel the pinch on November 30 when the scheme is set to be axed.
"They [the patients] have shown considerable concern regarding the cut-off date," she said.
"Just recently I've seen a couple who will be badly affected by the cuts. My heart goes out to them."
However, Dr Patel said that while she wanted the scheme to continue in order to support those struggling financially, the government had made the right decision to scrap the current plan.
"It wasn't well thought out and has proved difficult to manage. It needs to be targeted to those who are genuinely ill — not to those who don't actually need it. Whether the next scheme can better target those who are genuinely affected by it, we will see."
Dr Patel said the parents of one of her patients, a 14-year-old with type 1 diabetes, will now struggle to cover dental bills on top of other medical expenses.
Diabetes Australia is one of the peak bodies speaking out against the cuts.
Diabetes Victoria chief executive Greg Johnson said the organisation had received 5000 responses to the closure within 48 hours.
Although diabetes is not commonly associated with dental problems, Professor Johnson said it was a common side-effect and dental care was an "important investment in prevention".
Although the new dental scheme is focused on improved dental care for children, Professor Johnson said there appeared to be diminished access for people with a chronic disease.
A spokesman for acting Health Minister Mark Butler said the government wanted to reassure pensioners, concession card-holders and those with special needs they would be eligible for treatment under the government's additional investment in dental care.