HomeHealthIs accessing super to pay for dental care a good idea?

Is accessing super to pay for dental care a good idea?

For reasons I’ve never been able to quite fathom, Medicare does not cover the cost of most dental care. I was able to have a sports-injured shoulder repair done in 2022 without paying a cent. But an urgent tooth repair? No chance.

It’s odd, because I’ve often read that oral health is a gateway to overall health. If that is so, then surely paying for oral care would save the cost of serious future health issues.

The fact that it’s not covered by Medicare has also led to another issue surrounding dental care. In recent years, there’s been a sharp increase in early access to superannuation to pay for dental work.

This has raised concerns among several industry groups. Not least of those is the private health insurance sector, which warns of a potential rise in out-of-pocket medical costs.

Perhaps of greater concern is how early superannuation access for dental care will affect super balances at, and beyond, retirement. The health insurers representative body Private Healthcare Australia (PHA) cited one alarming projection. In a submission to a government consultation it said a 40-year-old withdrawing $20,000 would be $100,000 poorer at retirement.

Paying for dental care with super – a new phenomenon

Australian superannuation rules have long allowed for early access to funds on compassionate grounds in certain circumstances. However, the use of this rule by those experiencing hardship during COVID has raised public awareness of the option. 

This in turn has resulted in an increase in applications for early access, with dental care payments a primary driver. Of the $761.7 million approved for release on compassionate grounds last financial year, 41 per cent was for dental care.

According to the Australian Dental Care Association, this is a symptom of a broken system. “Our public dental system is in crisis and disarray,” said Australian Dental Association executive councillor Dr Andrew Gikas.

Even for dental care that may have partial public cost cover there are issues. As of last December, 81,000 people were waiting for treatment in the NSW public dental system.

What sort of dental care is being paid for by early super access?

Given funds must only be released on compassionate grounds, approvals should be granted only for essential dental work. This brings into question the definition of ‘essential’. 

Fillings and necessary tooth extractions form part of this definition, but advances in related treatment have brought associated cost increases. Dr Gikas provided an example from his own practice. He had a recent patient in need of major work, including 22 teeth pulled and dentures made.

While that will set the patient back a couple of thousand dollars, if the patient had chosen to have implants – which are increasingly popular – the cost would have been between $40,000 and $50,000.

Misunderstandings about what is essential and non-essential

One wouldn’t expect cosmetic dentistry to be defined as essential, but super funds have apparently been used for this purpose. The CEO of PHA, Rachel David, said frustration with long waiting lists had partially driven this trend. “But it has also been exacerbated by unscrupulous operators and brokers who are preying on vulnerable consumers,” she said. “This practice is actually pushing up medical out-of-pocket costs and healthcare inflation.”

I have witnessed this practice myself. In 2023, I reported to Meta several cases of Instagram ads implying cosmetic dentistry could be paid for via early super access. Some even explicitly stated that falsehood. 

Even now, an Instagram search of ‘dental superannuation’  may confuse some. One example leads with a headline ‘Invest in Your Smile’ before using the word ‘essential’ in much smaller print deep inside the ad. 

Using super for dental care – yes or no?

A bill now before parliament would legislate superannuation’s objective as being to preserve savings to deliver income for retirement. However, the proposed legislation is not designed to change how members can access their super earlier in exceptional circumstances.

This leaves open the option for you to access your super for essential dental care. But seeking both medical and financial advice before taking that option would perhaps be the wisest first step.

Have you accessed your superannuation early to pay for dental care? Were you advised of the potential long-term financial consequences? Let us know via the comments section below. 

Also read: Cheapest and most expensive regions for dental care

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Disclaimer: All content on YourLifeChoices website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care but no guarantees are provided for the ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness in regard to your own circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. Superannuation was designed to secure a comfortable retirement,” not for any other purpose.” Dipping into your super is like double-dipping!! If you access super for dental work , or any other reason, it means that your balance at retirement will be substantially lower and you will qualify for a higher pension. This defeats the whole purpose of superannuation. What a joke!!!

    • Superannuation is a joke. It was poorly designed to be a great tax dodge for the wealthy and of very little value to battlers, who not only can’t accrue much but are discouraged from saving privately by the myth that super will take care of them, and who may be locked out of the housing market by the fact that 12% of what they might otherwise have earned is going into super (Please don’t insult my intelligence by telling me people are not paid less because employers have to put into their super! The employer budget doesn’t grow because someone passes a law. They pay what they can afford – and they look at the TOTAL cost of an employee, not just what the employee takes home!)

      I don’t agree with paying for dental care out of super, although if it is essential and there is simply no other way, it’s better than letting someone suffer. But people SHOULD be able to access their super to buy a modest home (with the emphasis on modest). Consider couple X who have $600K in super between them and $100K cash, but are renting at $750 per week. To buy a $600K home (very modest indeed) they need another $100K to top up their deposit. If they are allowed to draw that from their super, there is still $500K left to grow, plus ongoing employer contributions, and they start to pay about $700 per week off a home loan. By retirement, they own the house outright. But long before retirement, $700 per week becomes a far lower portion of their income (due to wage rises) and way less than they would have to pay in rent. So potentially they can save a lot more as well as paying off an asset.

      Now consider the current situation where they are not allowed to draw super. They pay ever-increasing rent until retirement. At retirement, they have maybe $2 mil which is perhaps $500K more than they would have had if they had drawn that $100K deposit money. BUT they have to now pay $1.5 mil for that house they would have bought for $600K. They are WORSE OFF BY FAR.
      A home you own is the best asset one can have in retirement. Far better than superannuation.

  2. A GP and a dentist has to confirm the following:
    Treatment for life threatening illness or injury or
    Treatment for acute or chronic pain or
    Treatment for acute or chronic mental illness ( a psychiatrist report is required)
    to assess superannuation for dental work.
    Unless the medicos is in cohort with their client dressing up cosmetic treatment under one of the three conditions mentioned above, superannuation cannot be release.
    Whether superannuation should be released for such matter is a policy decision and that can have unintended consequence.

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