The waiting lists for South West Healthcare's public dental clinic has blown out to more than two years, data obtained by the Victorian Oral Health Alliance reveals.
The Standard can reveal one woman has been waiting for a procedure that has been classed as cosmetic has been waiting for more than eight years. With her wedding looming, she made the decision to find a way to fund the costly procedure in a private clinic.
The waiting time for South West Healthcare was 21.5 months in 2019/20.
However, that has risen to 27.4 months in 2020/21.
Member for South West Coast Roma Britnell said access to public dental treatment had been an issue since well before the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Since 2017 I have made representation to no less than three different Health Ministers on behalf of constituents who were unable to access public dental treatment," Ms Britnell said.
Ms Britnell said the system remained in crisis. "Talk is cheap," she said. "The government can't now hide behind COVID-19 as an excuse for public dental waiting lists being blown out. It has known about this problem for years but done nothing to find any solutions."
Warrnambool's Kimberley Taylor experienced chronic morning sickness when pregnant with her daughter Addisyn, who is now 8.
As a result her front four teeth were damaged and as a result rotted.
"They put me on the public waiting list to have my front teeth fixed," Mrs Taylor said.
"Every couple of years I would go in and they would tell me I was still on the list but I would have to wait because it was considered cosmetic."
Mrs Taylor said she was incredibly self-conscious about the way she looked but was struggling to come up with the funds to attend a private clinic. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, she had planned to travel to Bali for dental work, where it is a lot cheaper.
However, when travel was restricted, she had to cancel her trip. The only silver lining of the restrictions for Mrs Taylor was that everyone was wearing masks. "For me that was a blessing," she said.
Mrs Taylor said she visited a private dental clinic and made the decision to have her teeth repaired with porcelain veneers. "I wanted them fixed for my wedding," she said.
Mrs Taylor and her husband Rhys were married on the weekend. It was a delight for Mrs Taylor to be able to smile and not feel self-conscious.
Mrs Taylor said she was able to be able to come up with the funds, but some people may be forced to suffer for many years. "It was horrible," she said. "I would never smile with my mouth open."
Another Warrnambool woman, who asked not to be named, said she had been waiting for three years for much-needed dental work. She said she had health insurance for most of her life.
However, she is now an aged pensioner suffering from a number of health issues.
"About five or six years ago I had to cancel membership and could no longer afford go to a private dentist," she said.
"My health problems and excessive medication had been hard on my teeth and they have gone brittle."
The woman said she was placed on a waiting list and told it would likely be 12 months before an appointment became available.
"My year was almost up when COVID hit," she said.
"Dental appointments were slashed. Emergencies involving pain were farmed out to private dentists by voucher. I tried to get an emergency referral for the tooth that had now completely split but the voucher didn't provide a replacement. The emergency dentist did remove two damaged teeth that were to the side and out of sight. "I have now been waiting a total of three years. In that time six more teeth have broken and it is getting hard to eat."
The alliance data shows there are 3964 people waiting for dental care at South West Healthcare. This is a jump from 3453 in 2019/20.
The wait times for private dental clinics in Warrnambool varies, with some appointments available within a week, while other clinics are advising there are no appointments available for several months.
Non-urgent public dental services were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the state government.
A spokesman said that was why a record $360 million had been committed to the public service in the 2021/22 budget.
"We know how important oral health is and we know the pandemic has delayed many people from seeking treatment, which why the Victorian Budget 2021/22 is investing a record $360 million investment in our public dental services," the spokesman said.
"This is delivering 40,000 additional dental treatments for things like teeth checks, fillings and clean, and a major boost for communitybased health services, including dental services so more Victorians can get the treatments they need in their community.
"But we know there is more to do, which is why it is critical that the Commonwealth Government reverses their 30 per cent funding reduction in public dental services and commits to a long-term funding arrangement."
The spokesman said the waiting lists were only used for patients who require routine dental care.
Those assessed as needing emergency care or priority clients are not placed on a waiting list.
The state government has also committed $321.9 million over four years to deliver - Smile Squad - which will provide free dental care at all government primary and secondary schools.
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