In Australia’s Outback, a Shortage of Dentists Leads to Drastic Measures
The quantity of practicing dentists in the Australian outback is scarce — and it’s resulted in a dental health crisis taking place on a massive scale.
According to a September 7 news.com.au article, the closest thing many rural Australians have to proper dental care is literally a pair of household pliers, with which they pull out their own decayed and diseased teeth. The primitive procedure, dubbed the “outback yank,” is leading to thousands of dental emergencies.
The news.com.au article reports that most of the approximately 1,800 patients the Royal Flying Doctors Service has examined so far this year have been “emergency cases.” For the last two years, this service has been administering dental care to 10 towns throughout rural Australia out of the back of a semi truck.
“There was long-term dental disease that had never been treated — fillings, rotting teeth — people had resorted to their own dental work with pliers,” Anita Hansen, general manager of the Royal Flying Doctor Service Queensland, told news.com.au.
The causes of the crisis are two-fold: according to news.com.au, there are only about 21 dentists for every 100,000 people in Australia’s central regions, compared to 64 per 100,000 throughout its coastal areas and population centers. In addition, the country’s rural areas in the outback tend to lack water fluoridation, an important part of public dental health.
“The dental emergencies that are taking place in Australia’s Outback is a perfect example of why it is important to get regular dental treatment,” says Dr. Charles Botbol DDS, Studio B Dental. “Not enough people realize just how important regular dental care is, having poor oral health can affect a person’s overall health.”
Another hindrance is the fact that for many people living in the outback, the nearest dentist’s office can be several days’ of a drive away from where they live.
“If you don’t have any access to dental services, you’ve got a property you can’t leave and it takes three days to get into town, you do what you can,” Hansen explained.
And for many dentists, setting up a practice in a sparsely-populated area is impossible to do without losing money, especially when so few rural residents can even afford to visit the dentist regularly, news.com.au reports.