One in four Wagga patients could not afford to go to the dentist this year, according to a new study that has shocked dental professionals.
One of them is Wagga dentist and Australian Dental Association NSW president and Kathleen Matthews, who said the problem was especially dire in poorer regional and rural areas.
"It's unacceptable that people have to choose between food on the table or going to the dentist if they've got a problem," Dr Matthews said.
"What are we going to do about it as a civilisation? How do we lift up everybody so everyone has access to dental care?"
The study found that across the Wagga region 25 per cent of patients did not go to the dentist in the last 12 months due to the cost, and that that percentage was even higher in West Wagga at 28.5 per cent.
Across the region 6.6 per cent of patients were stuck on waiting lists for over a month, whereas closer to the city in West Wagga it was closer to 10 per cent.
Dr Matthews said across Wagga there was a significant backlog of patients who had been unable to come in during the early months of COVID-19 restrictions.
During that period dentists had also seen an increase in self-reported snacking behaviour, with patients admitting to falling for temptation during the months of self-isolation.
Dr Matthews said all of these trends painted a worrying picture for the future of Wagga's dental health, saying that the government needed to step up and provide better subsidies for disadvantaged regional areas.
She said the government should heed the advice of the Grattan Institute and offer targeted subsidies for dentistry, much like the Medicare subsidies for GPs or the PBS subsidies for medicine.
"For primary healthcare services like dentistry there isn't a universal primary dental scheme that helps people go to the dentist," Dr Matthews said.
"We're not as able to access services compared with our city cousins, and I think there's a bit of a plea for how services are delivered in regional and rural Australia."
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