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31 March, 2022

Dental waiting list blows out

PEOPLE waiting for check-ups through public dental services at Atherton will have to wait more than two years, with wait lists blown out due to restrictions in delivering services through the Covid pandemic.


Queensland Health has recognised that wait times for patients using the Atherton public dental clinic are now at 25 months, while Mareeba wait times are currently 18 months. 

The organisation says its accepted wait time is two years for dental check-ups and has attributed the increased in waiting times to not only clinical restrictions due to the pandemic, but a nationwide shortage of dentists to fill vacancies as a result of border closures. 

“And this situation has been exacerbated due to Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service clinical staff also contracting Covid,” the director of oral health services, Dr Herholdt Robertson, said. 

One of the factors affecting the wait lists is also the number of available dental chairs, with six at Mareeba and only two at Atherton. 

But Dr Robertson assured the public that if emergency dental treatment was required, arrangements can be made for patients to be seen earlier. 

“If a patient requires emergency dental treatment, we may be able to move their appointment so they can see a dentist sooner. All of our emergency dental treatment (facial swellings, oral bleeding, trauma) patients have been seen within one day,” he said. 

Queensland Health had held additional clinics late last year in a bid to tackle the backlog of patients. 

“Between September and December 2021, five extra clinics were held at Mareeba, Innisfail and Cairns North to clear the Oral Health backlog, with another three clinics scheduled at these locations for this month (March),” Dr Roberston said. 

“Patients on the Atherton waiting list have also been offered appointments in Mareeba due to their shorter list but the uptake for this has been poor. 

“There is also an initiative in place whereby people waiting on the list can see a private dentist free of charge. Public patients can contact our call centre on 1300 300 850 for further information about this initiative. 

“With Covid restrictions easing nationwide, and international flights recommencing into Cairns, we expect the situation for recruitment of Oral Health positions in our rural and remote areas to improve. 

“We continue to monitor the situation and we are working closely with our health partners to make further improvements to the public Oral Health waiting list on the Tablelands.” 

Dr Robertson also revealed that three oral health clinicians from Cairns were deployed to assist with the Covid outbreak response at Lotus Glen Correctional Facility. “This was not at the expense of any oral health service provision anywhere in our health service,” he added. Dental waiting

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