DENTAL health is a ticking time bomb researchers have warned, in the light of a new study about the effect of the COVID-19 crisis.
It comes after wait times for publicly funded care in parts of central Victoria ballooned to 42 months, a phenomenon researchers say is only likely to get worse.
A recently released study showed an 86.9 per cent drop in access to the Medicare Child Dental Benefit Scheme across Australia during the pandemic.
Researchers say this likely indicates a similar drop in the number of adults receiving dental care.
Bendigo surgery Integrated Smiles front office coordinator Tamara Kendall said the clinic had gone from having full books from 8am to 6pm to about three patients a day during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Miss Kendall said the clinic was still unusually busy with pent up demand for routine care, which had peaked in November and December.
Australian Dental Association Victoria Branch chief executive Matt Hopcraft said widespread serious dental problems in the next six months would be the likely result of the drop in routine care.
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Associate Professor Hopcraft said dentists were anecdotally reporting more emergency presentations, broken teeth and infections.
He said oral cancer issues could rise in the future, as missed routine checks meant later diagnosis.
Associate Professor Hopcraft warned long public dental care wait times - the statewide average is 19 months - would have broad consequences for oral health.
He said these wait times were likely to jump by 50 per cent because of the lockdowns, while the economic crisis would mean more people became eligible for this care.
Central Victorians needing publicly funded care in Maryborough already face a 42 month wait for treatment.
Associate Professor Hopcraft urged people to see a dentist as soon as they became aware of any oral health problems, to prevent it growing more serious.