Awarded the Medal in the General Division, Ms Elizabeth Dawson and The Governor-General the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC.

Awarded the Medal in the General Division, Ms Elizabeth Dawson and The Governor-General the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC. Photo: Jay Cronan

LIZ Dawson set up a dental practice for people too poor to afford treatment, but now she faces a problem. She has only 18 months to live and does not want the Salvation Army Dental Support Program to wither when she dies.

Almost total blindness has not stopped the 77-year-old volunteer from lobbying the ACT government and searching for dentists who can donate their skills.

''There are 30 people in the waiting list at the moment and I'd like them to be fixed before I go, but of course after them there will be more,'' she said.

Safronia Benasic is complaining about government dental treatment.

Safronia Benasic is complaining about government dental treatment. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

On Friday the cancer sufferer was given the Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division by the Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

As the Governor-General presented her the award, Ms Bryce said: ''I hear you strike terror into the hearts of senior public servants.''

Mrs Dawson, who continuously lobbies the ACT government to abolish the co-payment for public dental treatment, replied: ''I'm rather pleased to hear that.''

Ms Bryce emphasised that Mrs Dawson was prepared to stand up and ''give a voice for those who have no voice'' such as the homeless, people who have never received dental care and others living on the fringe.

Mrs Dawson started the program in 2008 after meeting a woman in the nation's capital who had just one tooth in her upper mouth and could not pay $36 to go to the government clinic.

She met others with a history of drug use that had damaged their teeth, and some whose teeth had been knocked out in domestic arguments. Sometimes she found it was the poorest people who needed to spend the most money.

The Snow Foundation donated $20,000 and other businesses helped, such as Cataldo's Salon, and dentists Colin Seaniger and Jessica Shirley came on board.

The Salvation Army program tends to deal with patients who cannot even afford the highly subsidised government system.

The average waiting time at the public clinic is 5½ months, a halving of the waiting time compared with a year ago, according to an ACT Health spokeswoman. Emergency patients can be admitted within 24 hours, although one patient recently was not happy with the clinic's definition of emergency.

It takes 8.95 months for denture treatment, a six-month reduction in the past 12 months.

Safronia Benasic, 32, said she had to wait a week to get an appointment with the government-run ACT Dental Health Program. ''They said I could only get in within 24 hours if it was infected,'' she said.

In frustration she said she pulled half of a split tooth out herself.

The clinic fixed her tooth, but Ms Benasic is still not happy because the government did not pay for teeth to be crowned.

''I'll have to find $1500 and I don't have that,'' she said. ''I have found one dentist who will let me pay it off bit by bit.''

The ACT Health spokeswoman said a crown on one tooth can cost up to $1700, which equates to the public dental program being able to provide approximately 100 dental examinations or 10 dentures.

■ Potential volunteers for the Salvation Army Dental Support Program can contact Kathryn Swinton on 0435 963 472.