In April 2010 I visited the dentist for the first time in a couple of years. The dentist kept on stopping to mark my dental chart as she examined my teeth. Not a good sign. I needed a lot of work done and was given a quote of $6090. In addition, I would need to pay for an oral surgeon to do some tricky extractions. I had nowhere near the money.
Long public waiting lists
The dentist suggested I contact public dental clinics. The public clinic in Wangaratta had a three-year waiting list. Seventy kilometres away, Wodonga's dental clinic had an eight-month wait. I then contacted the Melbourne Dental Hospital who suggested I use their student teaching clinic. I added my name to the teaching clinic's much shorter waiting list.
A month later I attended a general examination at the teaching clinic. A few weeks after that, I was back for a more thorough examination by a student. He said they would contact me after my oral surgeon completed the extractions.
Chronic disease dental scheme
I have a chronic illness so my dentist also suggested I use the Chronic disease dental scheme (CDDS). Under that scheme about 85 per cent of a dental procedure's cost is reimbursed by Medicare. The CDDS would cover $4250 worth of dental care over two years. My dentist completed some fillings and a crown under the CDDS.
Two oral surgeons quoted around $2000 to do my extractions under general anaesthetic in a hospital. But one said he could do the extractions in his surgery under a local anaesthetic for $950, and this amount was claimable on the CDDS.
Frustrated by dentists
I survived the oral surgeon's chair and then waited for the student clinic to contact me for the remainder of my dental needs. I rang and left them a number of messages. I was told the students were on holidays or doing exams. My student dentist eventually told me he had no more appointments available and would refer me to another student. No other student rang. Fed up, I transferred to the Melbourne Dental Hospital's three-month waiting list.
In the meantime I found a dentist in Wangaratta who saw CDDS patients. I had enough CDDS funds to pay him for a root canal.
Saved up for treatment
In anticipation of the worst, I had been saving since the initial visit to the dentist. In January I had enough money for another root canal. But my new dentist said the work needed to be done by an endodontist, which meant twice the cost. As the first available appointment with the endodontist was in two months, I had time to save.
Melbourne Dental Hospital
The Melbourne Dental Hospital contacted me just before I was due to see the endodontist. I debated cancelling the endodontist appointment in the hope the dental hospital would do the root canal for free. But I worried the hospital might think it cheaper just to remove the tooth. So I paid the endodontist $2150.
In March I had my first appointment at the Melbourne Dental Hospital. It cost $25. After my fourth appointment they were free. I just needed a healthcare card to use the dental hospital.
The hospital dentist did a range of work on my teeth but said I needed a permanent partial denture. They are not fitted by the dental hospital so I was referred back to the student teaching clinic for the work.
Much to my surprise, the student clinic contacted me within two months. At the time of writing this article, I still have a few more appointments before the partial denture is due to be finished.
If I had paid for all this dental work it would have cost around $9,000.This is a huge amount for most people. I do not know what I would have done without the CDDS and the public dental system.
Unfortunately the CDDS scheme is scheduled to close on 1 December 2012. It will be replaced by the National Dental Scheme (NDS) as announced by the Federal Government earlier this month. In my case I estimate the NDS will provide $1000 dental care per year, much less than the CDDS' $4250 every two years.