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AUT Welcomes Review Of Children’s Oral Health

31 August 2004

AUT Welcomes Review Of Children’s Oral Health

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) welcomes the announcement of a review of child oral health services by government and district health boards. AUT is the largest New Zealand provider of degree level dental therapy education and only provider in the North Island.

Professor Max Abbott, AUT Pro Vice-Chancellor and Faculty of Health Dean, said the country is facing an oral health crisis that requires a rapid and substantial response to remedy.

“Oral health standards have deteriorated in some Maori and lower socioeconomic communities and could get worse if more is not done quickly to reverse the trend.”

“Priority needs to be given to boosting the dental therapist workforce. It has reduced from about 900 to 500 and continues to age and shrink.”

Professor Abbott said AUT and Waitemata District Health Board are working together to turn the workforce crisis around and are making some progress.

“We established a new dental therapist degree programme in 2002 that will have its first graduates at the end of this year. This is a start but the numbers are small relative to need. There will be a maximum of 12 new therapists this year, 15 next year and 20 the year after.”

“We would like to increase student numbers and add a programme on dental hygiene to strengthen preventative work. The major limiting factor is cost. Government funding for dental therapist education is a fraction of what is provided for dentists, yet the costs for staff, specialist facilities, equipment and consumables are similar. We are carrying the funding shortfall because it is in the national interest and anticipate that government will redress it in due course. However, we cannot sustain let alone increase this cross subsidisation.”

“There are really good career prospects for dental therapists now that they can work in the private sector as well as in the school dental service. Long-term this should be good for the oral health of New Zealanders. Paradoxically, short-term, it may draw therapists out of an already depleted school dental service and add to existing recruitment and retention problems.”

According to Professor Abbott there are other factors that require attention to avert the growing oral health crisis. This includes enhancing employment conditions for therapists in the public sector, upgrading clinics and clinic equipment, completing fluoridation of the country’s water supplies and enhancing the nutritional and general health status of marginalised children and families.

ENDS

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