Oral health is the ability to eat, speak and socialise without discomfort or embarrassment, and without active disease in the mouth which affects overall well-being. It relates to very basic human functions. Oral diseases are among the most prevalent, affecting all age groups and, like general health problems, affect the poor more than the affluent. Health is regarded as fundamental in Australian society and health care a basic right, however this does not apply to oral health. Oral health care is regarded as an optional extra, a private matter with public care only provided as a tattered safety-net for the most disadvantaged. This can be seen in the sources of funding for oral care and in policy development. This model of care places a greater burden on the individual and results in restricted access to timely and appropriate care for those with fewer resources. Long waiting lists in the public sector mean poorer oral health outcomes in terms of social impact and tooth loss for eligible clients. The responsibility for oral health belongs to a wide variety of health practitioners, policy makers, communities and individuals.
Presented at the 33rd Public Health Association of Australia Annual Conference, 23-26 September 2001, Sydney, Australia