Background: While the majority of dental care in Australia is provided in the private sector those patients who attend for public care remain a public health focus due to their socioeconomic disadvantage. The aims of this study were to compare dental service profiles provided to patients at private and public clinics, controlling for age, sex, reason for visit and income.
Methods: Data were collected in 2004-06, using a three-stage, stratified clustered sample of Australians aged 15+ years, involving a computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI), oral examination and mailed questionnaire. Analysis was restricted to those who responded to the CATI.
Results: A total of 14,123 adults responded to the CATI (49% response) of whom 5,505 (44% of those interviewed) agreed to undergo an oral epidemiological examination. Multivariate analysis controlling for age, sex, reason for visit and income showed that persons attending public clinics had higher odds [Odds ratio, 95%CI] of extraction (1.69, 1.26-2.28), but lower odds of receiving oral prophylaxis (0.50, 0.38-0.66) and crown/bridge services (0.34, 0.13-0.91) compared to the reference category of private clinics.
Conclusion: Socio-economically disadvantaged persons who face barriers to accessing dental care in the private sector suffer further oral health disadvantage from a pattern of services received at public clinics that has more emphasis on extraction of teeth and less emphasis on preventive and maintenance care.