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Patients must often pay the costs of dental care themselves — and this can be expensive. This article will help you navigate the ways in which you can pay for dental care.
What is dental care?
Dental care is the care of your teeth and mouth provided by a dentist, dental specialist or other health professional. In Australia, dental services are provided by public dental services or by private dentists.
Dental costs vary widely from dentist to dentist. That’s because there are no standard fees for dentists like there are for doctors. Dentists charge different amounts according to where they practise and what methods they use.
Does Medicare cover dental care?
The Australian Government does not cover the costs of most dental services in the way it does with other health services. Most dental costs are paid for by patients.
Medicare does, however, pay for some essential dental services for some children and adults who are eligible.
Child Dental Benefits Schedule: This pays $1,000 over 2 calendar years for children aged 2–17 for basic dental services, including dental examinations, x-rays, cleaning, sealing cracked teeth, fillings, root canals and extractions. It does not cover orthodontic or cosmetic dental work or any dental care provided in hospital.
Most of the services are bulk billed, so you don’t pay anything. The payments are only available to families who are already receiving other government benefits. To see if your child is eligible, visit the Department of Human Services website.
Public dental services: The states and territories provide public dental services both for children and adults. These may include emergency dental services or referrals to specialist services like orthodontics in hospital. Adults must generally have a Health Care Card or Centrelink Pensioner Concession Card to be eligible, although the rules vary depending on where you live.
Each state and territory offers different services and you may have to wait up to a year or more to see a dentist.
To find out what’s available where you live, visit your state or territory health department website:
- Australian Capital Territory: ACT Health
- New South Wales: NSW Health
- Northern Territory: Department of Health
- Queensland: Queensland Health
- South Australia: SA Health
- Tasmania: Oral Health Services Tasmania
- Victoria: Department of Health
- Western Australia: Dental Health Service
The Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Scheme provides Medicare benefits for some dentistry treatments and surgery for eligible people under 28 years of age.
Does private health insurance pay for dental care?
Many Australians use private health insurance to pay for dental care. Most health funds will only pay about half of the cost and you will need to pay the rest yourself.
Policies vary widely between different health funds. There are differences in what they will cover and how much they will pay. There may also be limits on how much you can claim each year. It’s important to check what’s included in your cover before you receive dental care.
You can find what your health fund covers in the ‘General treatment, Extras or Ancillary’ section of your policy. Funds use different terms to describe what they will pay for, so you will need to check the policy carefully:
- Routine dental: may include x-rays, examinations, cleaning and polishing, fluoride treatment, tooth extractions, fillings
- Major dental: may include crowns, veneers, bridgework, implants and dentures
Some health funds have preferred providers, meaning you see dentists that they recommend. This way you get lower fees, higher rebates and more preventive services, but you don’t have a wide choice of dentists.
You can compare polices at privatehealth.gov.au
How can I minimise my dental care costs?
The best way to reduce the cost of dental care is to look after your teeth. It’s very important to keep your mouth healthy for your general health. You can do this by:
- brushing twice a day
- flossing once a day
- limiting sugar in foods and drinks
- visiting a dentist for a check-up once a year
Before you agree to dental treatment you should do the following:
- Ask your dentist how much the procedure will cost.
- Ask for the item numbers then ring around a few dentists to compare prices.
- Ask whether you really need this procedure. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
- Ask whether there are less expensive alternatives. For example, can they use a less expensive type of filling?
- Talk to your dentist about how you can prevent tooth decay and gum disease in future.
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Last reviewed: July 2019