The number of people on waiting lists for public dental care is expected to climb, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts the provision of services.
In late March, dentists were told to cease any routine treatment and limit services to emergency and urgent care.
Public dental services begin to offer routine care again in late May, but the second wave of coronavirus has seen a return to vital care only.
Associate Professor Matthew Hopcraft, chief executive officer of the Australian Dental Association Victorian branch, said the disruptions meant more people would have to wait longer to access public dental care.
The economic impact of the pandemic also meant more people would become eligible for public dental care, Associate Professor Hopcraft said, which would also place more strain on the system.
Data provided by the ADAVB showed the number of people waiting for public dental care from Bendigo Health rose from 805 in 2018-19 to 2391 in 2019-20, although the number of patients treated also increased slightly.
Associate Professor Hopcraft said Bendigo Health, however, had some of the shortest waiting times in the state.
"It's probably going to impact on Bendigo less than we'll see in other parts of the state," he said.
A Bendigo Health spokesperson said its dental services were seeing emergency patients and carrying out essential treatment, which comprised courses of care necessary to prevent a patient requiring emergency care.
"We are also exploring teledentistry options to minimise exposure for patients and staff, and to assist the community to continue good oral health practices and prevent deterioration during this time," the spokesperson said.
"Bendigo Health Dental Services will consider the current risk environment, public safety and duty of care to clients when making decisions about the provision of services and will prioritise patients based on evidence, informed professional judgement and individual risk assessment."
However, Maryborough District Health Service's waiting list reduced by 12 per cent between 2018-19 and 2019-20.
The service's dental team leader, Lesley Knight, said they were looking at running introductory sessions that would give patients on the waiting list the option to proceed with general care - including check-ups, cleaning and extractions - or emergency care only, when they had a specific problem.
"That enables us to move the general waiting lists along a lot quicker," Mrs Knight said.
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Primary and preventative health manager Robyn Jordan said the service was still seeing high-needs children with its dental therapist, too.
"We still serving the community as best we can under the current restrictions," she said.
Associate Professor Hopcraft said more investment in dental care was needed, as was cooperation between government and the private sector.
There were private dentists with the capacity to see public patients, Associate Professor Hopcraft said, so there was room for a Medicare scheme that would allow public patients to access treatment from private dentists.
He said the public dental system "wasn't in good shape" even prior to the pandemic, notwithstanding Bendigo.
"The average waiting time before COVID was 19 months and that's just way too long for anyone to wait for routine dental care," Associate Professor Hopcraft said.