24 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Dentists relegated to 'poor cousin' without govt funding - advocate

1:30 pm on 24 April 2020

Dentists are being ignored as the Ministry of Health met with other groups in the health sector, the New Zealand Dental Association says.

Dentist, mouth

Photo: 123RF

Dentists have been essentially closed since the country went into level 4 over a month ago.

While others in the health sector received funding to keep them afloat, the government has provided nothing to oral health.

Dental Association chief executive Dr David Crum said the industry had been largely ignored when it came to effective PPE delivery, clear guidance from officials or any form of national plan.

Dentists and their patients had been relegated to the status of "poor cousin", he said.

"Oral health is an important part of general health and as such all New Zealanders have a right to access good oral health care," Crum said.

"Doctors and pharmacists are still able to work and receive at least some form of income, albeit at a reduced capacity. Dentists are not. Why is this? One hypothesis is, that because there is currently almost no government funding for adult dental care in New Zealand, dentists believe they have been left off the radar during this Covid-19 crisis."

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Dentistry was largely privately funded, with only small pockets of public spending out of $1.5 billion spent each year.

"Last year the New Zealand government spent over $18 billion on health care, $3,745 for every man woman and child in New Zealand. But less than one half of one percent was spent by the government on oral health," he said.

In obeying the new Ministry of Health guidelines - even at level 3 with virtually no PPE being made available by DHBs to dentists, dentists were now being forced to access the very scarce supply from overseas.

This cost is about $80 per patient, even before treatment starts.

"The reality is that if you are an adult New Zealander, you will be expected to pay for your own dental care and the PPE to provide this safely with limited exceptions," Crum said.

"Dental practices in New Zealand are a mix of privately-owned enterprises and corporate companies. Servicing these practices is a significant dental industry of around 30 companies that supply equipment, maintenance, consumables, materials, educational courses, IT and software to the medical and dental profession."

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