PUBLIC dental waiting times are proving to be a real toothache across the south-west, with new figures showing patients are waiting years to be seen by a dentist.
Patients across Warrnambool, Camperdown and Portland are forced to wait more than two years on average for standard treatments like fillings and more than a year for dentures.
Last year more than 3600 people missed out on treatments, with some waiting as long as 27 months to be seen.
There were only 6.8 full time equivalent dentists and three oral health therapists to treat the 8818 public patients across three clinics.
Of all treatments, 37 per cent of them were emergency cases.
The alarming figures have prompted calls from South West Healthcare, South West Coast MP Roma Britnell and the country's peak dental body for increased funding to the region's public dental service.
Ms Britnell said she had written to Health Minister Jenny Mikakos asking for immediate attention to be given to the region's public dental waiting lists, which are among the worst in the state.
She said she had been fielding calls from "distressed" constituents unable to get a non-emergency appointment at the Warrnambool Base Hospital for two years.
"People were trying to do the right thing and get on top of dental problems before they get to the emergency stage, but they are told that they will have to wait for two year, or come back when it's at an emergency level," Ms Britnell said.
"Not only does this leave the patient in discomfort for long periods of time, it also creates an increased burden on the public dental system. Preventative dental work done early is always cheaper."
Australian Dental Association Victoria president Dr Gitika Sanghvi said more funding was needed at a state and federal level.
"In the south-west specifically we estimate there are about 19,000 adults that are eligible for public dental care, but the local public dental service was only able to treat 4309 adults across four clinics in 2018-19," she said.
"Victoria-wide we know that 40 per cent of Victorians are eligible for public dental care - 2.5 million people - but the public dental system only treated 388,000.
"37 per cent of the care provided are emergency procedures which makes the system focused on fixing dental problems rather than preventing them.
"The system is under-funded, services can't hire dentists and practitioners to treat patients if there's not enough money there."
SWH Primary and Community Services executive director Kerryn Anderson said additional funding would improve the oral health of the community.
"South West Health is supportive of any increases to health funding," she said. "We know how important a well-funded primary care system is to improve the health of our community, of which oral and dental health is a big part.
"The wait times are due to the volume of patients wanting to access public dental services, as well as the number of patients requiring emergency care or meeting priority criteria to access the service outside of the waiting list."
She said those coming off the general wait list wait an average of 23 months. Emergency and priority access clients are seen within 30 days, with the most urgent seen on the day of initial contact to the service.
"All patients wanting to access our public dental services are screened regarding need for emergency treatment upon contact and also screened for priority access," she said.
"Where patients do not require emergency treatment or meet priority guidelines they are placed on the waiting list and advised of when they should contact to make an emergency appointment if required.
"Our dental services cover a large geographical area and this does present challenges in meeting these targets."
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos failed to respond to questions from The Standard.
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