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New Zealand’s unmet oral health needs are ‘deplorable'


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

New Zealand’s massive unmet oral health needs are ‘deplorable’

Professor Max Abbott, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Health & Environmental Sciences at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) says it is deplorable that many adults in New Zealand cannot afford dental care. This is especially the case for people living in deprived areas.

He joins the Minister of Health, Dr David Clark, in commending Otago University’s plans to build a dental teaching facility in South Auckland, at the Manukau SuperClinic on Great South Road.

While primarily designed to provide training for final-year dental students and postgraduates, the clinic will significantly increase local community access to oral healthcare.

The New Zealand Health Survey shows that only a third of adults in the most deprived areas consulted a dental health professional during the past 12 months. In contrast, most adults in the least deprived areas did so.

“Poor oral health is of concern in it own right. Research increasingly shows that it is linked to other health conditions, including mental health,” says Professor Abbott.

“The current delivery model contributes to unacceptable socioeconomic and ethnic health disparities. It is an outrage that we have tolerated this situation for decades and dental bodies have blocked alternatives that would make affordable preventative and curative dental care available to those most in need.

“Professional bodies, especially registration boards, have a statutory obligation to ensure high standards of practice and protect the public. They are not charged with maximising the income of their members and rationing care to those who can afford to pay for it.”

Professor Abbott refers to the failure of dental therapists to obtain approval for an adult scope of practice. Currently, dental therapists provide oral hygiene services to children and adults, and treatment to children. They are prohibited from providing treatment to adults.

“Rather than relying on dentists, we would extend the dental therapist scope and employ therapists in multidisciplinary primary care settings. Dentists and specialists could provide consultation and focus on more complex procedures. This would make basic preventative and treatment services universally available.”

Professor Abbott says it is an irony that previous Minister of Health, Hon Annette King, was one of the small number of therapists, then called dental nurses, who had an adult scope of practice. He says dental care has gone backwards in this respect.

“Otago University’s new facility will help South Auckland communities, just as AUT’s oral health teaching clinic does on the North Shore. However, these facilities only very partially address the massive unmet dental health needs throughout the country.”

Professor Abbot says he looks forward to working with Otago University colleagues to research population oral health status and needs, and advocate for the provision of oral care as part of comprehensive healthcare in New Zealand.


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