‘The rot needs to stop’: school dental services failing New Zealand children
More than 96,000 New Zealand children are waiting on overdue checks under a “failing” school dental system, an expert says.
At the annual New Zealand Dental Association conference last week, president Dr Bill O’Connor said the Community Oral Health Service was failing New Zealand children.
However, Minister of Health David Clark said he did not believe a review of the service was “appropriate” at this time.
Last year, 29,000 children had their teeth extracted and 7000 required dental treatment under general anaesthetic, O’Connor said.
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“Today, 120 young Kiwi kids will have teeth extracted. Why have they not been treated before they got to this point?,” he said.
Pre-school and primary school children up to school year 8 have access to free, publicly-funded basic oral health services.
These are available through the Community Oral Health Service, provided by DHBs throughout New Zealand.
O’Connor said the issue was not with dental therapists, but the system.
“The system has failed these children and their parents. The system has failed those who work in it, trying to deliver the best outcomes for their patients.”
The government measured the success of the service by the number of children enrolled, but this was at odds with the large number of school-aged children with untreated tooth decay, he said.
Instead, children were being let down by a lack of ongoing care, he said.
“Children don’t get to choose what they eat or drink, they don’t choose to have rotten teeth and the pain and suffering that comes with that.
“They don’t choose to live in areas that are woefully unable to meet the treatment needs of their population,” he said.
O’Connor said it was time the government got serious on “this appalling situation”, and called on the health minister to make it a priority.
“It’s time to look after our kids.”
Clark said New Zealand had “huge unmet need in dental care in this country”.
“We have people struggling with third world health ailments as a result of bad dental hygiene and inability to access the care and treatment they need.”
However, Clark said he was advised there had been significant improvements in child oral health for all population groups in recent years, since the previous Labour-led Government initiated a reinvestment programme for the Community Oral Health Services.
“Clearly there is more to do.”
Clark said he had made it clear that equity was a key priority under this Government.
DHBs are expected to report on how they are improving equity of outcomes across the board.
“At present, I’m advised 85 percent of children are seen on time by the Community Oral Health Service, though the rate of overdue children is currently higher than targeted. The ministry continues to work with DHBs to reduce the percentage of overdue appointments,” he said.
Clark said the reinvestment programme had started to show positive results.
“The ongoing objective for the Ministry of Health and DHBs is to continue to secure the benefits of the current model of care, with a particular focus on reducing inequalities and increasing the engagement of pre-school children and their families/whānau in the Community Oral Health Service.”