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AUT oral health students tackle dental decay

AUT oral health students tackle dental decay in community

Caption: Prime Minister Helen Clark watches AUT oral health student Jo Lowry, flanked by Health and Environmental Sciences Faculty Dean Max Abbott and AUT Vice Chancellor Derek McCormack.

AUT's oral health students are to play a vital role in the Government's new strategy to tackle dental decay nationwide.

School of Oral Health head Dr Sue Cartwright says AUT's new breed of oral health students will help tackle the nationwide problem of dental decay in children and adolescents.

She says there is a critical need to revitalise the dental workforce and attract more recruits ready to tackle this serious health issue.

"We're taking a fresh look at oral health by developing a team approach to dental care. We've taken the first steps by shifting our focus from purely restorative work to developing health promotion and prevention strategies," she says.

Prime Minister Helen Clark and Health Minister Pete Hodgson yesterday unveiled the Government's community oral health services at a function at AUT's Community Dental Clinic. The Government is to establish new oral health clinics catering for all children and adolescents.

Since AUT launched its combined dental therapist/hygienist degree this year - the first course of its kind in the country - the number of first-year students has almost doubled to 38. Dr Cartwright says another group of graduates will join the workforce next year, boosting the depleted numbers of dental health workers in the public sector.

The School of Oral Health's new dental clinic will target at-risk groups in the community. Over the past year, trainee students have treated over 200 high school students from Northcote's Hato Petera College. After it becomes fully operational next year, the on-campus clinic will cater for up to 5000 patients a year.

The students also take an active part in educational programmes in Northland. In July, AUT University joined forces with the local Iwi (Ngati Hine) and the Northland DHB to promote oral health care. The students travelled in a mobile dental unit treating patients in remote rural areas, and worked in a community clinic in Kawakawa. Dr Cartwright says it was part of a concentrated effort to provide support and education for children with chronic oral health.

Northland's oral health is among the worst in the country. The Northland DHB 2005 figures show only 14% of Maori children aged five years and under were decay free - and only 23% of 12-year-olds were decay free. Dr Cartwright says there's been a steep decline in oral health over the past five years and intervention is essential.


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