A Dunedin principal is "disappointed and disturbed" children are having to wait more than a year for dental appointments due to a shortage of dental therapists.
The Southern District Health Board said as of December last year, 19 percent of children were overdue for an annual check. Dental therapists provide oral health assessment, treatment and prevention services for children and adolescents.
A spokeswoman said that figure was based on last year's data and might not reflect current overdue appointments.
Dunedin has three community hubs in Mosgiel, south Dunedin and the University of Otago Dental School, as well as mobile dental clinics in Port Chalmers, Portobello, Abbotsford and Wakari.
Green Island School principal Steve Hayward, who is the former president of the Otago Primary Principals' Association, said he warned the DHB there would be problems when it closed school dental clinics and replaced them with the hubs and mobile clinics.
"I'm disappointed and disturbed because they promised us a number of things a few years ago when they revised the school dental service."
One of those promises was that there would be a 100 percent student attendance at the new hubs and clinics, he said.
Mr Hayward said parents often ended up taking a child out of class for a whole day to get to the nearest mobile clinic at another school for a quick screening check-up and it was hard for families to access the mobile clinics, let alone the hubs, if they didn't have their own transport.
The DHB's oral health director, Tim Mackay, said in a statement the DHB aimed to provide annual check-ups for primary school children but some were waiting for more than 12 months.
"The main reason for overdue appointments is staffing," he said.
"Southern DHB has a workforce of dental therapists who are steadily retiring and the competition to attract new graduates and experienced therapists is high, making it difficult to fill dental therapy roles."
He said the DHB was actively recruiting new graduates, but currently had more than three full-time vacancies in Otago.
However, a recent recruitment drive had seen five new therapists recruited, and more staff had been rostered on in clinics to clear the appointment backlog, he said.
Ministry of Health national oral health clinical director Riana Clarke said 13.6 percent of pre-school and primary school aged children nationwide were overdue for appointments last year, up from about 10.4 percent in 2015.
She said the national target was less than or equal to 10 percent of enrolled children.
"Those [DHBs] who are in arrears cite issues with recruitment, retention and an ageing workforce as well as having some children with higher needs and issues with non-attendance."
She said some DHBs were looking at extending their opening hours or working on Saturdays to accommodate working parents.