Improved oral health and an ageing population are driving changes in dental practice activity in Australia, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Dentists' Practice Activity in Australia: 1983-84 to 1998-99 examined trends in dental practice activity and use of services at 5-year intervals over a 15-year period based on samples of over 1,000 dentists across Australia.
The report was carried out by the AIHW's Dental Statistics and Research Unit based at the University of Adelaide. It shows that while the number of hours worked by dentists has remained stable, appointments are getting longer and more services are being provided per visit.
Report co-author Dr David Brennan said that while dentists are on average seeing fewer patients per year, the patients they do see are visiting more often and receiving more intensive services in any given year.
'Patients are using more services, and the mix of services is changing,' Dr Brennan said.
'There's more diagnostic and prevention treatments as well as an increase in complex treatments such as endodontic, crown and bridge services.'
Dr Brennan said that somewhat ironically these trends seemed to be the result of improved oral health in both children and adults.
'On the one hand, improved oral health in children and teenagers is leading to greater emphasis on early diagnosis and prevention treatments to continue good health.
'Among adults, increased numbers of people retaining their natural teeth means more detailed diagnosis of past and present dental problems is needed.
'On the other hand, a growing number of adults retaining more of their natural teeth has increased the pool of teeth at risk of dental problems. This has led to more complex endodontic and restorative treatments, including crown and bridge services, which help to maintain the appearance and function of natural teeth.'
'Our report shows increasing numbers of older patients attending dental practices which-in combination with the decline in tooth loss over recent decades-means that these patients may have complex treatment needs in the future that will further drive the trend to more services and longer appointments.'