20 Mar 2023

Online petition launched for government to provide free dental care for all

7:24 am on 20 March 2023
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A lobby group is calling on the government to make dental care free. Photo: 123RF

A group called Dental for All is calling for the government to make dental care free for all adults.

The group, which includes practising dentists, is launching an online petition on Monday.

This follows a recent poll conducted by Talbot Mills and commissioned by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, which found about three-quarters of adults in New Zealand delayed visiting a dentist because of the cost, and only 43 percent had visited a dentist in the last year.

The poll showed 74 percent of people strongly agreed or agreed that adult dental care should be funded in the same way it is funded for children. Children's dental care is currently free in New Zealand.

Public dentist Hugh Trengrove said dental care was a basic human right, and it was inequitable that many people could not access it.

Most people should be seeing a dentist yearly for a check-up, and not getting checked increases people's risk of teeth and gum problems, he said.

"When our teeth and gums are looked after, our wellbeing improves. I see terrible cases where poor oral health leads to worse health problems, and government has the power to intervene to end that," he said in a statement.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Sarah Dalton said in a statement that dental care was unaffordable for many New Zealanders and was "adding to the health inequities that plague our system".

While Auckland Action Against Poverty coordinator Brooke Stanley Pao said it was time for the government to bring dental care into the public health system and introduce universal free dental care.

But in November last year when the Tooth be told report was released Finance Minister Grant Robertson said going straight to providing universal dental care would cost well over $1 billion a year in extra funding.

Dental care had to sit alongside many other priorities in the health sector, he said.

The poll was conducted between 24 January and 7 February this year with 1286 nationally representative people sampled across New Zealand. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percent.

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