Report of the National Advisory Council on Dental Health

Cost to Government and Society

The National Advisory Council on Dental Health (the Council) was established as a time-limited group to provide strategic, independent advice on dental health issues, as requested by Minister for Health and Ageing, to the Government. The Council’s priority task was to provide advice on dental policy options and priorities for consideration in the 2012-13 Budget.

Page last updated: 03 September 2012

      The direct costs of dental disease are the direct expenditure by individuals and governments on dental services. In 2009–10, total expenditure on dental services in Australia was $7.690 billion. Chapter Two discusses these direct costs in more detail.

      While there has been some attempt to quantify the indirect costs to government and society of dental disease on the health system, there is a lack of consistent quantitative analysis and information. Robust data and economic analysis is still required to quantify these costs and the indirect financial pressures that dental disease places on government and society.


      The cost of public hospital admissions due to dental disease for 2008–09 was approximately $84 million. While admission numbers remain fairly stable over time, the average cost per admission has increased, leading to an increase in total costs (refer to Figure 1.4 below).

      Figure 1.4: Public sector costs of hospital admissions for dental disease (nominal $millions).
      Figure 1.4 shows the public sector costs of hospital admissions for dental disease (nominal $millions). D

      Note: over time the cost weights are updated from AR–DRG version 4.1 to 5.2, hence the comparisons between years are indicative only and not exact. Source: Department of Health and Ageing National Hospital Cost Data Collection Cost Report, Public Sector Estimate – Round 4 (1999–2000) to Round 13 (2008–09).

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      Outpatient clinics

      While there has been an increase in the number of dental services for non–admitted patients, the average cost per occasion of service is quite low in outpatient clinics. The total cost for these services is estimated to be just over $10 million in 2008–09.

      Medical practitioners – Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme subsidies

      As discussed above, patients often access the services of medical practitioners, including prescriptions for antibiotics and painkillers, for treatment for dental disease. This imposes a cost to the Commonwealth Government through payments of Medicare subsidies – for GP consultations – and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) subsidies – for certain medications prescribed by GPs and dental practitioners.

      While there have been some attempts to quantify the cost of Medicare subsidies to the Government – estimates range widely from $10 million per annum40 up to $300 million per annum41 – there are no estimates for the cost of PBS subsidies.

      40 Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council Steering Committee for National Planning for Oral Health (2001), Oral health of Australians: National planning for oral health improvement: Final Report, South Australian Department of Human Services.
      41 Leeder, S. and Russell, L. (2007), ‘Dental and Oral Health Policy Issue Paper: Policy Issue Paper’, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, 21 September 2007.


      Dental decay also impacts on broader society through reducing productivity and participation in the workforce. Some claim that the cost to the economy could be up to $2 billion per annum.42 However, there is no robust data or economic research to quantify the magnitude of these costs and further analysis would be required to properly assess the economic impact of dental disease on lost work days, workforce participation and productivity.

      42 ibid.