Singaporeans are faced with a wait of a year or more for dental treatment as demand for subsidised dental treatment is steadily increasing. This includes treatment for more serious dental problems such as periodontitis or severe gum infection.

"With a rapidly ageing population, the demand for age-related dental treatment such as dentures, root canals and fillings has increased," said Dr Poon Choy Yoke, director of the National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS).

The centre, which has eight periodontists, gets 150 referrals per month for gum treatments, making the average waiting time for a first visit, two to five and a half months, Dr Poon added.

At the first visit, the patient is assessed, and those who come in a diseased state are first stabilised before therapy is carried out on subsequent visits, she explained.

"Most patients on this waiting list wait for about six to 10 months before treatment commences," read an email from the service quality section in November last year.

But should a patient's condition worsen, he/she should seek "a review appointment" and, while waiting, arrange for a routine six-month cleaning at a dental polyclinic or private general practitioner dental clinic, the email added.

Pioneers suffer the most from long waiting times

On the other hand, for private clinics, a week's wait is the norm for periodontal treatment, said Dr Raymond Ang, chief operating officer of dental chain Q&M. The cost of private specialist periodontal treatment is also more expensive due to fewer subsidies.

Non-surgical periodontal charges range from S$300 to S$600 per quadrant of the mouth, with each treatment taking more than an hour per quadrant, Dr Ang said.

At the NDCS, private patients are charged S$213 to S$472, but for pioneers, they only pay S$40 to S$143. The Ministry of Health (MOH) does provide subsidies at private clinics for pioneers, but it does not cover specialist periodontic treatment.

According to Dr Ang, the claim amount for gum treatment is equivalent to scaling, which is S$40 for up to twice a year.

Acknowledging the problem, Dr Poon said, "Recognising that this is an area of growing demand, NDCS is actively recruiting more to the speciality."

Lack of compliance for follow-up health screenings is common

Meanwhile, Singaporeans have not returned for follow-up health screenings, despite signs of chronic lifestyle diseases in the first health screening.

Medical groups such as SingHealth, which runs six to eight screening a year, say one in four people who were screened between July 2014 and July 2015, have not returned for a doctor's follow-up after a year.

Healthcare professionals say many citizens either do not see their results as being serious enough, or do not want any medication. Others say they are too busy.

In an attempt to increase screenings, the MOH has said that Singaporeans aged 40 and above are eligible for screening for five diseases - high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cervical and colorectal cancer - at just S$5 from September onwards.

The fee also includes the first follow-up consultation with a doctor, which is cheaper than any scheme. The effort is part of preventative measures to reduce the drop-off rates of those who test positive for certain ailments, but do not follow up on the results. MIMS

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