As the South Australian population increases and ages, the demand for access to dentists is likely to outstrip the supply of available visits, says a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
According to Professor John Spencer, of the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH) at the University of Adelaide several factors will contribute to the shortage.
'As the population grows and ages, the increasing demand by middle and older-aged Australians who are more likely to have more of their natural teeth and require longer or more frequent dental visits, means that even though the supply of dentists will actually increase there will still be an overall shortage of dentists,' he said.
The report, The South Australian dental labour force, shows the number of practising dentists is expected to increase by 10.6% from 838 in 2002 to 927 in 2015, but that as average visit lengths increase, the supply of dentist visits is projected to decline from 1.84 million in 2002, to 1.75 million visits in 2015.
'If trends in demand for dental visits continue, demand is projected to increase by 19.4% from 2.2 million visits in 2002 to 2.6 million visits in 2015.
Overall, the number of visits supplied by the total dental labour force is expected to decrease by 7.4% from 2.28 million visits in 2002 to 2.11 million visits in 2015.
The numbers of practising therapists is projected to decrease from 123 in 2002 to 90 in 2015, while numbers of hygienists and prosthetists are expected to remain static.
The report also shows that demand amongst those eligible for public dental services is expected to grow by 32.4% by 2015. This is more than double the growth in demand expected for those not eligible (13.9%).
'By 2015, it is estimated that South Australia will need an extra 190 providers to keep up with the projected demand,' Professor Spencer said.
'Given the projected excess of demand over supply, where possible, actions should be taken to increase recruitment and retention of qualified persons in the dental labour force.'