Adelaide public dental clinic facing federal funding doubt

Hundreds of thousands of Australians unable to find the money for dental care are waiting years, in some cases, for public clinics to treat them.

The Australian Dental Association estimates about 70 per cent of the population pays for dental care, which leaves the other 30 per cent either ignoring problems or facing long waits for treatment.

One of the community dental programs operates four days per week out of a clinic in Light Square in central Adelaide, but funding doubts are clouding its future.

Margie Steffens from the University of Adelaide school of dentistry is among those involved with the clinic's work.

"We provide simple restorative [work], fillings, extractions, cleaning - prevention [of problems] is a very big need that I think quite often gets left behind," she said.

Research suggests secondary health problems can stem from poor oral health, such as diabetes and possibly heart disease.

Good teeth help esteem and job prospects

Having good teeth is also considered a mental health benefit, boosting esteem and job prospects.

"[We] are helping people re-establish connections with the community, to get back into the workforce ... and bring about a sense of normality," Ms Steffens said.

"That fits in just perfectly with our [dental school] students - giving people an increasing self-esteem and physical appearance, it is such an important thing."

The clinic gives free care to a range of people otherwise unable to afford a dentist and is a training ground for final-year Adelaide dental students, who are supported in their work by recent graduate Laura Petroff.

"You get to see another side of dentistry patients than you see in private practice," she said.

"It gives you a holistic approach, particularly to patient management."

Clinic might have to survive on donations alone

The Light Square clinic was set up with government grants, support from the Australian Dental Research Foundation and significant donations from medical companies, but health changes announced in this year's federal budget have put its future in doubt.

Ms Steffens said the funding was due to wind up at the end of this year, possibly leaving only donations as a funding source.

"We are working on strategies to see how we can keep it going," she said.

"[Losing government funding] will certainly make us scale down quite a lot and we would have to reduce the services a bit, we have a little to keep us going but long-term we need to find some guarantees."

Aside of the dental students, other dentists volunteer their time for the clinic's work.

The Federal Government announced in the budget it would cut two dental programs and put on hold a $390 million program for the states to ease waiting lists for adults.

Health Minister Peter Dutton said the dental budget was actually rising as the Government would spend $2.7 billion on dental services over the next four years.

Most of the increase was for a program supporting dental services for children.

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