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Free Oral Health Programme Deeper Than Root Canals

Media Release

August 18, 2008

Free Oral Health Programme Goes Deeper Than Root Canals

A pilot scheme '100 Healthy Smiles' has enabled one hundred and seventy low income adults living in the Waikato to access free oral health care, resulting in significant personal benefits and financial returns of $130,000 to the Government.

Clinical Operations Manager for Waikato Primary Health Erica Amon says many low-income adults who need to see a dentist are hindered by the cost of treatment. She says this causes long term pain and associated health problems, low self esteem and barriers to employment. But for 170 clients enrolled at the Work and Income Five Cross Roads Service Centre, that has changed.

"The project exceeded our expectations. We had planned for 100 adults to access the service but over 150 people have benefited since the project began in 2006," says Amon.

Over the past eighteen months Waikato Primary Health has joined with the Ministry of Social Development (Work and Income) and local dentist, Dr Steve Pawley of Hillcrest Dental Centre, to provide a free dental service for low income adults while piloting a different funding model.

An evaluation shows improvement to clients' self esteem as well as a drop in numbers on benefits. Because clients' confidence has been boosted by a healthy smile, some of those clients have experienced increased job opportunities and gone into paid employment and or further training.

In fact, within three months of dental treatment 22 clients came off the benefit.

"Clients have reported they are smiling more, due to feeling proud of their smiles and improved physical appearance, are eating a healthier diet, maintaining a positive attitude at work, are no longer in pain and their sleeping has improved. They also don't need to take and pay for pain medication," says Amon.

Usually, Work and Income provides a one-off emergency dental treatment payment of $300 for clients. However, the '100 Healthy Smiles' pilot programme consisted of a care package up to the value of $1,000 to allow for significant dentistry work on each client if necessary. The funding was provided for four hours of work at a base fee of $230 per hour for each person, rather than the typical rates paid per procedure.

According to Amon, due to number of clients finding employment, the calculated benefit savings amounted to $77,000. Plus, changing from the standard emergency dental payment to the current funding model resulted in a further saving of $53,000, bringing the overall savings to $130,000 – a significant saving and an outstanding outcome of the programme.

Deanne McManus-Emery, Social Development Manager for Ministry of Social Development, Waikato, says the collaborative relationship built with Waikato Primary Health had been a significant achievement.

"We are very fortunate the leadership of Waikato Primary Health is looking at innovative ways in which to make a difference to our community. We're excited about where this could lead us in the future. Together, we've made savings for the Government, helped people into employment, and have seen some good social development outcomes for clients," says McManus-Emery.

The project has generated interest from within the Ministry of Social Development with health representatives visiting the region shortly to discuss these achievements.

Dr Steve Pawley of Hillcrest Dental Centre says the patients he has treated would not otherwise have been able to access dental treatment. In some cases, the severe negative impact on the patient's health and wellbeing was significantly reduced and he was looking forward to the programme rolling out further afield in future. He felt increased satisfaction at having the freedom within the different funding model to provide more comprehensive treatment than just fixing the immediate emergency.

It is hoped that eventually more low income adults may be able to access the programme in the future


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