There’s no need to register with a dentist in Australia, and the best way to find a good one is to ask your colleagues, friends or neighbours (particularly those with perfect teeth) if they can recommend someone. Dentists are listed under ‘ Dental Surgeons’ in the yellow pages and are permitted to advertise any special services they provide, such as emergency or 24-hour answering services, a dental hygienist, and evening or weekend surgeries. There are mobile dentists in some country regions, and in remote areas emergency dental services are provided via the Flying Doctor Service. Many family dentists in Australia are qualified to perform treatment such as endodontics or periodontics, which are carried out by specialists in many other countries.
General dental services aren’t funded by Medicare, although it pays for 75 per cent of in-hospital medical procedures performed by a Medicare-registered dentist or an oral surgeon. The cost of dental treatment has risen considerably in recent years, and charges, which vary with the area and the dentist, can be very high. If you miss a dental appointment without giving 24 hours’ notice, your dentist may charge you a standard fee. Most dentists accept payment by credit card (plus bearer bonds, diamonds, gold, etc.). Dental teaching hospitals in the major cities treat patients for less than private dentists, although you may be something of a guinea pig.
Pensioners and the unemployed with a Medicare concession card are entitled to free general and emergency dental treatment under the Commonwealth Dental Health Program, although there are waiting times of up to two years for treatment! Children in some states receive free school dental care. Information about dental fees can be obtained from the Australian Dental Association, PO Box 520, St Leonards, NSW 1590 (Tel. 02-9906 4412, www.ada.org.au).
It’s unusual to have full dental insurance in Australia, as the cost is prohibitive. Some dentists offer a dental insurance scheme. Patients must be ‘dentally fit’ (so if you have ‘bad’ teeth, you won’t be accepted) and are graded according to the condition of their teeth. Insurance doesn’t cover expensive items such as bridges, crowns and dentures. If you have healthy teeth and rarely pay for more than an annual check-up and a visit to a hygienist, dental insurance provides poor value.
Basic dental treatment is usually provided under a health insurer’s ancillary policy, and most international health insurance policies offer optional dental cover or extra dental cover for an additional premium, although there are many restrictions, and cosmetic treatment is excluded. Where applicable, the amount payable by a health insurance policy for a particular item of dental treatment is fixed and depends on your level of dental insurance. A list of specific refunds is available from insurance companies.