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Dental visits out of reach

Large numbers of Wairarapa children are missing out on free dental care, while many adults are skipping appointments because of financial constraints.

As of June 30, 2022, 22 per cent of Wairarapa children were overdue for routine dental care, just-released data shows.

According to a local dental practice owner, this figure would’ve been much worse of it wasn’t for the hard work of the Wairarapa Community Oral Health Service, operated
by Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa.

If it wasn’t for the service, the number of children missing dental care could have been much closer to the national average of 46 per cent, he said.

Masterton-based Kevin Wong Dental Surgery manager Vivian Wong noted that if good dental hygiene is not taught from a young age, it will lead to oral-health problems later in life.

The local children who have been missing dental care are mostly teenagers from lower-decile schools, and there’s nothing practices can do about these young patients not attending their appointments, Wong said.

The students who don’t attend school are also unlikely to visit the dentist: “Going to see their dentist is the last thing they want to do,” she said.

Yesterday was World Oral Health Day, an occasion ACT leader David Seymour marked with a media release claiming that a “post-code lottery” was in effect regarding dental care, with some regions much worse off than others.

The published data showed that Counties Manukau had the worst figures by fair, with 66 per cent of its young people overdue for dental checks.

Meanwhile, an Official Information Act response provided to the Times-Age by the Ministry of Social Development reveals that 753 Wairarapa people were given special needs dental grants in 2021 for emergency dental care, for a total cost of $445,695.

Last year the government increased special needs dental grants from $300 per year to $1000 per year for adults on benefits and those earning minimum wage, New Zealand Dental Association president Dr Erin Collins said.

Despite this increase – the first in 25 years, Collins said the grant still needed to be extended to more people and for a range of dental treatments, including annual check-ups.

Extending free dental care from up to 18 years of age to up to 25 years of age would be one of the most effective ways to improve oral health outcomes in New Zealand, said Collins, who added there is a growing sense of crisis as more and more people are not receiving the dental care they need.

“The association is aware of many sad stories from our members – as well as reports in the media – of New Zealanders putting off desperately needed dental care because of cost.”

Collins said those unable to pay for dental care include “ordinary working kiwis struggling with the soaring cost of living”.

“Research shows that dental visits … drop off dramatically after eligibility to the community oral health service expires, and the reason is down to cost.”

A poll released yesterday by Talbot Mills and commissioned by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists found that 72 per cent of people delay visiting a dentist because of cost, and only 43 per cent of people had visited a dentist in the past 12 months.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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