Dentistry and Forensic Odontology in Australia: A Brief Overview

Klaus Rötzscher (ed.)Forensic and Legal Dentistry201410.1007/978-3-319-01330-5_13

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

13. Dentistry and Forensic Odontology in Australia: A Brief Overview

Jane Taylor , Russell Lain  and William O’Reilly 

Department of Oral Health, School of Health Sciences, University of Newcastle, Ourimbah, NSW, 2258, Australia

Department of Oral Surgery and Diagnostic Imaging, Sydney Dental Hospital, 2 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills, NSW, 2010, Australia
Jane TaylorAss. Prof. (Corresponding author)
Russell LainDr.
William O’ReillyAss. Prof.
The legal matrix under which forensic odontologists practice in Australia is governed by the civil and criminal framework that affects all Australian citizens and therefore healthcare providers including dentists.

13.1 The Practice of Dentistry in Australia

The legal matrix under which forensic odontologists practice in Australia is governed by the civil and criminal framework that affects all Australian citizens and therefore healthcare providers including dentists.
The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901, after the six British colonies agreed to form a federation. The constitution of this new country recognized the common law system and established a federal system of powers and laws. The primary source of these laws was British law. Some laws are federal laws, such as those relating to trade and commerce, defense, external affairs, and immigration; others are concurrent, with individual states and territories making laws independent of or additional to federal powers. If there are inconsistencies between federal and state or territory laws, then federal law prevails.
With respect to dentistry, the federal Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009 informs the activities of the Dental Board of Australia and prescribes such things as qualifications necessary for registration, conduct of practice, use of titles, and a complaints management system. All states and territories in Australia have additional regulations, specific to the practice of dentistry, in the geographical area in which they practice.
The Dental Board of Australia is 1 of the 14 National Health Practitioner Boards that function under the umbrella of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA). The board is responsible for the registration of all dentists and paradental practitioners (dental hygienists, oral health therapists, dental therapists, dental prosthetists) in Australia, as well as assessing the qualifications of overseas trained practitioners who wish to practice in Australia. The board also approves accreditation standards for courses of study leading to registrable qualifications. State and Territory Registration and Notification Committees have delegated powers to make certain decisions in their own jurisdictions.
In addition to its registration function, the Dental Board of Australia also has a protective jurisdiction in that it ensures public safety by handling notifications and complaints from the public relating to unprofessional conduct, professional misconduct, and notifiable conduct.
It is important to understand this is a protective and not a punitive jurisdiction and to that end the Dental Board of Australia conducts, as appropriate, inquiries or hearings when there has been a complaint against a practitioner about treatment provided or that there is concern about the appropriateness or standard of treatment provided.
Complaints against a dentist may also be made through either the civil or criminal courts or to other statutory bodies such as the Health Care Complaints Commission. The types of claims made against dentists and oral health practitioners reflect other Western countries, and examples can be found in the Australian Dento-Legal Review.
Duty of care, informed consent, privacy of personal health records, and care delivered to a standard of the majority of professional colleagues are all principles that apply to dental practice in Australia.
The Dental Board of Australia also issues guidelines, policies, and codes in areas such as record keeping, consent, infection control, tooth whitening and bleaching, and conscious sedation. All dentists are expected to comply with these policies and guidelines. Failure to comply may lead to the dentist having orders or conditions placed on their ability to practice and in serious matters where unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct are proven, the dentist may either be suspended or deregistered.
There are mandatory reporting requirements where a dentist has reasonable cause to be concerned that a colleague may be suffering an impairment that this is reported to the registering authority. Impairment may include a psychological condition or an addiction to alcohol, prescribed medication, or illicit substances. Mandatory reporting also applies to cases of suspected child abuse.
While Australia has a publically funded universal healthcare system, only limited access to dental services is available through Medicare. The majority (over 90 %) of dental care is provided through the private sector in Australia, and as such the profession is considered to be self-regulated. Fees for dental services are thus not mandated or regulated, and although market pressure impacts, practitioners are able to charge a self-determined amount for all services. Complaints related to the levels of fees occur, as does fraud relating to provision of service and fees and the involvement of third-party health insurers.

13.2 Forensic Odontology in Australia

The federal and state systems of laws mentioned previously also impact on the practices of both forensic odontology and Disaster Victim Identification across Australia. Each state and territory in Australia has its own police jurisdiction, which necessitates differing management of forensic odontology services and Disaster Victim Identification according to the relevant legal structure. In addition there is a federal police force, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), whose traditional jurisdiction is enforcement of Commonwealth laws such as those relating to major fraud, border protection, drug importation and trafficking, people smuggling, electronic crime, child protection, and counterterrorism. Since the Bali bombings of 2002, the Forensic Services branch of the AFP have also been involved in managing Australian responses to international incidents (e.g., the Asian tsunami) and also the identification of Australian citizens killed overseas in disasters.

13.3 The Coronial System, Part 2

As a natural consequence of Australia’s history, the source of much of Australian law is British law. This brings two principal differences between Australian and Continental European laws.
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Nov 26, 2015 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on Dentistry and Forensic Odontology in Australia: A Brief Overview

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