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Inequality in Australia is dental as anything

  • 13 May 2016


'I think you've been grinding your teeth in your sleep.'

'Me, gnashing my teeth in distress?' That's what I would have said to the dentist, if her hands and those of her nurse weren't occupying my big mouth.

Our family dentist is professional and kind; she tells you methodically what she is doing, and why it's necessary. 'That pain? That's because of the years of tartar build-up I'm removing,' she informs me.

'Uuuurrgghmaburble.' I'm retrospectively grateful for the previously-administered needles.

I'd put off dental care for several years, not through fear but because of the necessity to prioritise other expenses within the family. Dentistry hurts more financially than experientially. But at least, as a worker in a dual-income household, I could — and have — budgeted and paid for the work required on my chompers. For many of us, it's not that easy.

Post-budget, one element to sink our teeth into is the question of dental care for marginalised Australians. A smile says a lot about who we are, how we are doing and where we have come from.

British research presented at the 2013 International Association of Dental Research posited 'a link between missing teeth and a patient's quality of life' and cited other research on observers' 'perception of men and women with straight and crooked teeth'.

Respondents perceived those with straight teeth as 45 per cent more likely to get a job than those with crooked teeth, when competing with someone with a similar skill set and experience. People with straight teeth were seen as 58 per cent more likely to be successful and 58 per cent more likely to be wealthy.


"Sixty-six per cent of the Salvos' welfare clients could not afford dental treatment, and two in five could not afford a yearly dental check-up for their children."


Indicative of employability, wealth (could your family afford braces for you as a child?), socioeconomic status and self-esteem, a dodgy smile is also recognised as a key indicator of homelessness.

In the soon-to-be-released fifth annual national Economic and Social Impact Survey research by the Salvation Army, it's recorded that 66 per cent of the Salvos' welfare clients 'could not afford dental treatment [and] two in five could not afford a yearly dental check-up for their children'. These figures are recorded in several years' worth of surveys: from 2013–2015 the number of clients who couldn't afford dental care varied from 60–68 per cent; the percentage of their children who couldn't afford an annual