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Research by COTA has found that 37 per cent of older Australians have not been to the dentist due to costs.

New research reveals alarming delay in senior dental care

Renewed calls for a dental benefits scheme have been made after new research found seniors delayed or completely putting off going to the dentist due to costs.

Research released by the Council of the Ageing (COTA) Australia has found that almost 37 per cent of Australians over 55 have not gone to the dentist in the past year due to the expense.

The number increased to 44 per cent of older Australians on lower incomes, which included many pensioners and residents in aged care.

COTA Australia chief Patricia Sparrow said the number was incredibly alarming due to the broader health and wellbeing implications for older Australians and called on the government to take urgent steps.

"The fact that we’ve got four in every 10 older Australians skipping or delaying their dental care should be a real wake-up call to our politicians," Ms Sparrow said.

"These findings back up what we’re hearing directly from older people – it’s not uncommon for us to hear stories of older Australians not getting the urgent dental work they require simply because it’s too expensive.

"Good oral health is vital for maintaining good overall health, and the risks of not getting the care people need can be incredibly serious – even life-threatening in some extreme cases."

Ms Sparrow said the findings cemented the need for introducing a Senior's Dental Benefit Scheme – one that the Royal Commission recommended.

"The first, most urgent step for the federal government should be to introduce a publicly funded Seniors Dental Benefit Scheme, bulk billed through Medicare," she said.

Seventy-three per cent of Australians support the introduction of this scheme, and four in five believe Medicare should cover dental care.

In its pre-budget submission released in January, Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) detailed recommendations for sustainable funding for the sector.

ACCPA predicted an investment of $3.9bn in the first three years would be needed to fund dental services for older Australians.

"We need to make sure our system is ready to not only support older people now, but also in the future," ACCPA chief Tom Symondson said.

"Aged care has been chronically underfunded for decades, and we can’t keep going like this. The time is now. With the release of the Aged Care Taskforce’s report last week, we can finally have some confidence in the future of our sector.

"Those recommendations will take time to bear fruit, and it is incumbent on the government to continue to grow funding to the sector in the meantime or aged care will slip through the cracks before reform can be implemented."

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