A SEVERE shortage of dentists and worsening oral health in the community has led to a dental crisis in Ballina.
And medical experts have warned that it is only going to get worse.
More than 30 community leaders were invited to a public health information session last week to discuss the crisis and possible solutions.
North Coast Area Health Service’s Teeth for Health project manager, John Irving, said the dental workforce was under a lot of pressure.
“There is already a shortage of dentists, but that is going to be exacerbated by the ageing workforce,” Mr Irving said.
“Dentists are not being replaced by younger dentists.
“We do have more dental schools opening, but there is going to be a lag.
“Realistically, it could be 10 years or more before the workforce is back to an acceptable level.
“And it is already problematic getting dentists in our rural areas.
“This is an escalating problem. It’s becoming harder to get in to see a dentist.”
But the dentist shortage isn’t the only crisis facing the industry.
Dental professionals are seeing more and more people with very serious dental problems, including ‘horrible diseases’.
Chairman of the University of Sydney’s Population Oral Health Unit, Professor Anthony Blinkhorn, spoke at last week’s meeting.
He said water fluoridation was a necessary and important step.
It is a call being backed by local professionals.
Mr Irving said many dentists believed the best, and most cost-effective, solution was water fluoridation.
“A lot of the talk so far has centred on that,” he said.
“It can lead to a 50 per cent reduction in tooth decay across the board, and that could even go as high as 75 per cent.
“From a public health perspective, it’s a no-brainer.”
President of the North Coast branch of the NSW Australian Dental Association NSW, Dr Brenden White, has been a strong advocate for water fluoridation.
“The Ballina population’s oral health is in poor shape,” he said.
“The impact of this will become an ever-increasing burden on the community and can be reflected in greater levels of ill-health.
“Prevention is better than cure, and there are options that can be adopted readily.”