Much-needed hospital bed spaces are being taken up in Wagga by potentially preventable dental-related conditions, according to national figures.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show that more than 400 "hospital bed days" were taken up by dental issues at Wagga Base Hospital in the 2016-17 financial year.
NSW president of the Australian Dental Association, Wagga-based Kathleen Matthews, believes Australians are underestimating the importance of dental health.
"I think that there's a bit of a disconnect, not only on a personal level, but I think at a governmental level, around providing a health subsidy, funding to medical procedures and to medications and to other sorts of healthcare services and businesses, but the majority of Australians don't qualify for any sort of subsidy when it comes to oral health services," Dr Matthews said.
"We know that two million Australians last year avoided going to the dentist, not because of not wanting to, but because cost was the barrier for them. So that's a really important thing to acknowledge as well."
Dr Matthews, who works in the public health system, is keen to see more funding put into preventative programs as well as immediate dental services.
"We work with what we're given, and I think that we try to do good work with the money that we have," she said.
"It's always nice to think about more funding, but I think it's nice to think about spending that funding wisely. More fillings just represents more disease, I think. So maybe we focus some of that funding on preventing programs."
Dr Matthews warned that oral health could have an impact beyond people's teeth.
"We know that there's some strong associations between diabetes and oral health. We know there's some strong associations between heart disease and oral health," she said.
"We know that if you've got an unhealthy mouth and you have an underlying systemic issue, so some other complex health going on, that one affects the other.
"I'm not saying there's causation, so there's no link. You know, because you've got oral health, you get heart disease. That's not what I'm saying. But we know that in a body that's already fighting disease on multiple fronts, then also having to fight something in the mouth is pretty tough. Bodies are great, but they're not all things to all people, all of the time."
Dr Matthews has also offered some advice on how to keep your oral health in tip-tip shape.
"Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Drink plenty of water and don't have too much sugar. And I'm definitely not a party pooper. Absolutely you deserve birthday cake on your birthday. But cake every day, maybe not so much."
Dr Matthews is also keen to see more transparent food labelling, so people can see exactly how much sugar is in the food they eat.
"Convenience food is part of everyone's landscape. We all need that to get through the day. And so making those right choices when you are sourcing convenience food is really important as well," she said.
"And reading the labels and looking at the sugar labeling. I think it's an important step the government could take, would be adequate sugar labeling, that's easy to understand."