This report presents findings from the 2008 National Dental Telephone Interview Survey. A random sample of Australians from all states and territories were interviewed. Variations in recent dental visiting and self-reported oral health status of Australian adults aged 18 years and over are presented. Comparisons are made between age groups on the bases of: holding an Australian Government Concession card (cardholders vs. non-cardholders); usual reason for making a dental visit (check-up vs. problem); experience of financial barriers to using dental care; and remoteness area of residence.

Overall, 6% of adults were edentulous (had lost all their teeth), while 94% of adults had one or more natural teeth. Edentulism (the loss of all natural teeth) was more prevalent in older persons. After controlling for age, people from low-income households and cardholders experienced higher levels of edentulism. Among dentate persons (those with teeth), cardholders and persons from low-income households were more likely to experience higher levels of tooth loss and report that they were wearing a denture.

Among those who were dentate, cardholders were more likely to have experienced toothache (22% compared with 15%), felt uncomfortable with their dental appearance (33% compared with 26%), and avoided certain foods during the previous 12 months because of problems with their teeth, mouth or dentures (30% compared with 17%). Over 35% of people with complete tooth loss had avoided certain foods during the previous 12 months, compared with 22% of people who retained some of their own natural teeth.

Nearly 60% of dentate adults had made a dental visit within the previous 12 months while only 16% of edentulous adults had done so. Among dentate adults who visited in the previous 12 months, approximately 55% went for a dental check-up and 44% for a dental problem at their most recent dental visit. Cardholders were less likely to visit for a check-up (46% compared with 58%). Furthermore, cardholders who visited a public practice at their last dental visit were far less likely to have visited for a check-up (29%) than for a problem.

Although eligible for public-funded dental care, only 25% of cardholders visited a public clinic at their most recent dental visit. Cardholders were more likely to have received an extraction during the previous 12 months and had more teeth extracted (0.45 compared with 0.29). Adults who last visited for a dental problem had more extractions (0.55 compared with 0.15) and more fillings (1.26 compared with 0.48).

Among cardholders who last visited a public clinic, 25% waited between 1 and 2 years for that dental appointment and 32% waited 2 or more years.

Affordability and financial hardship encountered in purchasing dental services influenced the use of private dental services by Australian adults. Cardholders were more likely to have avoided or delayed visiting because of cost, to have had cost prevent them from having recommended treatment, and to have had a lot of difficulty in paying a $150 dental bill.

Dentate adults with affordability and hardship difficulties were less likely to have made a dental visit in the previous 12 months, and were more likely to usually visit for a dental problem. They were also more likely to receive either a filling or an extraction upon visiting.