28 May 2019

Dental health reorientation at root of long treatment delays - Health Ministry

1:29 pm on 28 May 2019

Long, painful wait times for children are partly being caused by a successful change to dental health services, the Ministry of Health says.

A child's mouth showing rotten and decaying teeth.

Photo: 123RF

Thousands of children are waiting months for treatment by a specialist or to have dental surgery, including an under-two-year-old who was sent home from Whangarei hospital with rotten teeth and told it would be five months to fix.

There is a call for sector reform, with reports of people unable to afford treatment ripping out their own teeth and Health Minister David Clark saying people were dealing with "Third World health conditions" as a result of bad oral health and inability to access care.

Ministry of Health national clinical director of oral health Riana Clarke told Morning Report some children were having to wait because of the success of a reorientation of the community oral health service.

She said the change had brought into the system children that had not previously been accessed.

"We're actually reaching more kids than we ever did before.

"Often these children have high levels of decay and many of them - for example pre-schoolers - aren't able to cope with treatments in a regular dental chair, and so these children need to go to hospital for a general anaesthetic for treatment."

Dr Clarke said more children were also being seen at a younger age.

She said over time she expected waiting list to drop as preventative measures being promoted in the reorientation - education about fluoride and health food and drink choices - came into effect.

However, Dr Clarke said children should not be in pain while they were on waiting lists, and parents should contact their DHB or dental nurse if they were.

"Whether it would involve being seen at an emergency appointment for their general anaesthetic, or whether it would be to prescribe an antibiotic in the meantime, something would happen to help the child."

Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern said it was unacceptable that children were waiting months for serious dental work.

She told Morning Report she would raise the issue with Minister of Health David Clark.

"That's just simply not acceptable, that was the element I wanted to talk to him about of course because in New Zealand we do have free dental care for under 18s.

"The dental outcomes for kids actually will then play out in ... their dental health ... as adults, so it makes sense to invest in them."

Ms Ardern has again ruled out a sugary drinks tax but said the government was considering better food labelling rules.

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