Dental named most important, least accessible health service by public housing residents, as cohealth kicks-off dental van roadshow to high-rise towers

Released on 19th January 2023

A dental van roadshow across public housing high-rise estates in Melbourne’s north and west will tend to the teeth of those who most need it, after a cohealth survey found that three quarters of people living in public housing were unaware they were eligible for free dental.  

Four-in-ten public housing residents named dental care as their most needed, yet least accessible service in the cohealth Community Connectors survey of 4,000 people.  

Survey respondents reported living with dental pain for years because they were reluctant to access dental services due to wait times, language barriers, low health literacy and cost. 

In response to the survey, cohealth has kicked off the dental van roadshow which will bring free dental treatment to public housing residents aged 18+ who might not otherwise access oral healthcare.  

The dental roadshow was initiated by the cohealth Community Connectors, a Victorian Government funded program which bridges health gaps for people living in public housing and will see the vans set up at high rise estates in Carlton, Williamstown, North Melbourne and Fitzroy. 

The cohealth Community Connectors survey found the main reasons people did not seek dental care were: 

  • Wait times for public dental 
  • Financial  
  • lack of understanding of healthcare as a priority 
  • lack of access to a clinic or transport 
  • poor prior experiences in healthcare settings
  • the need for in-language clinicians and outreach workers 

The current wait time for public dental is 26 months according to the Australian Dental Association of Victoria, and cohealth has long advocated for increased funding for public dental programs. 

cohealth says that because many of the residents have delayed seeking oral health care, their tooth problems are much worse meaning fillings, tooth extractions and follow-up are more likely. 

Gurjot Kaur, Community Engagement Coordinator said of one person she interviewed:  

 “They knew the waiting list for dental treatment was incredibly long, so even if they had level-10 pain, they would just take a Panadol because they thought there’s no way they could get it fixed.  

“Whether it was a slight problem or a very big problem, they were convinced that care was so out of reach, or that no clinic had time for them.” 

Christopher Turner, Acting Chief Executive of cohealth said that community health services play an integral role in bringing healthcare to people who face the greatest barriers to care.  

“One of the cornerstones of cohealth’s model of care is that no client is ‘hard to reach’, but rather, institutions and services can be,” said Mr Turner. 

“Rather than expecting clients who face healthcare barriers to come to us, sometimes we achieve the best outcome by meeting them where they are “and making sure the service meets their unique needs.” 

“Through the cohealth Community Connectors, we are bringing culturally safe, trauma-informed oral healthcare to people’s front door,” he said. 

Quotes attributable to acting Housing Minister Anthony Carbines
“We’ve invested $8.5 million for the Community Connectors program to link public housing residents to preventative and early intervention health services so that they can access the care that they need, when and where they need it.” 

“We’re so proud to see the delivery of free dental services across the north and west to people who might not otherwise have access to oral healthcare.” 

“We know that many in our community can struggle to access dental care due to a number of barriers — there may be language barriers, low health literacy and financial barriers. This program meets people where they are at, in their community, so they can feel confident to get the care that they need.”  

Muhubo Sulieman, Carlton public housing resident, mother of three children 

Muhobo has been living at the Carton high-rise for more than a decade: 

“It’s been more than four years since I had a dentist appointment. 

“In the past I’ve had to wait a long time to get a dentist appointment. I’ve had pain sometimes and bleeding gums. I felt excited today. I want more of this service for everyone. 

“Today I had a clean and they found some decay. They helped me make a follow-up appointment to get a filling. 

“It’s very important to have healthy teeth and healthy gums. 

Gurjot Kaur, cohealth Community Engagement Coordinator 

“After the residents get their dental check-up onsite, we can then make an appointment for them to have follow-up treatment, and ensure they get priority. 

“Sometimes we’ve been able to get people follow-up treatment on the same day as their check-up. 

“People don’t know that because they are living public housing, they are eligible for priority dental. So when they ring to make an appointment through regular channels, they are told there is up to two years wait time and they just give up.” 

— Ends — 

More on cohealth: 

cohealth is one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all.  cohealth provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical, oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services.   

more information:  Lanie Harris 0418 552 377 


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