10 Apr 2015

Calls to stop the rot in dental care

10:33 am on 10 April 2015

The Government has been warned to make funding oral health a priority before a tsunami of baby boomers require major dental work.

The age group - of those born in the years following WWII through to the 1960s - makes up 14 percent of the population and a Hastings dentist said in the next ten years their teeth were going to need an enormous amount of dentistry.

A baby boomer dentistry tsunami is on its way a report says.

A baby boomer dentistry tsunami is on its way a report says. Photo: 123RF

Iain McGregor said their teeth were brittle and falling to bits and most baby boomers heading to retirement had heavily-filled teeth. "Not necessarily [from] years of neglect, but certainly years of dentistry, starting with the school dental nurse where prevention wasn't quite as strong."

Dr McGregor said many would struggle to pay for the work. "They're going to be expected to pay for 100 percent of the costs of maintaining their teeth," he said.

Lead dentist at New Plymouth hospital David Antunovic said because people were putting off seeing a dentist, greater numbers were being admitted to hospital with tooth-related problems.

He said severe tooth decay was also a costly disease among children.

"Younger children are now coming through ... for quite radical dentistry to try and take all their abscessed primary teeth out, and to fix up the ones that are broken and decayed."

In 2014, it cost the New Zealand health system $20.2 million to provide general anaesthetic to 5050 children aged seven years and under to get one or more of their teeth removed in a public hospital.

Labour Party health spokesperson Annette King said oral health continued to be underfunded by Government.

She said the Government was in real terms spending less on the oral health of children, than it had in the past.

"Not only children, but also what they spend in district health boards, in their hospitals and on relief of pain."

Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague said the Government could not continue to take a hands-off approach.

"There is a total mismatch between this highly specialised, high-cost service and people's ability to pay," he said.

Mr Hague said the market that the Government had left oral health care to was failing to meet New Zealanders' needs.

He said sugary drinks, and hidden sugars, were causing tooth decay, and the Government should put a tax on them.

But Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said that would not happen.

Though the Government spent just under $200 million a year on dental care, mainly for under 18 year olds, Mr Dunne said there was always pressure to do more.

"The fundamental problem with the way we fund oral health services is that the basic structure hasn't changed since the late 1940s, so there's a big catch-up."

He said the Government was trying to be very strategic in terms of meeting pressure points and needs.

Mr Dunne said he was looking into whether mobile school dental clinics could be used for the elderly when schools were closed.

There were 169 mobile dental units, and 168 fixed hub community clinics in operation.

The mobile clinics visit schools and provide a range of services including examinations, x-rays, preventative care and other treatment as required.

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