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Annette King: Adolescent Dental Health Project

Hon Annette King

Adolescent Dental Health Project

Health Minister Annette King today launched the It's Free and It's All Good campaign, aimed at encouraging teenagers to visit the dentist.

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Today is a special day in terms of New Zealand health for many millions of reasons.

It is the second birthday for the new Primary Health Organisations, and there are now 3.5 million New Zealanders enrolled in them, with about two million of them entitled to cheaper primary health care as a result.

This year's Budget included $264 million specifically targeted at implementing the Primary Health Care Strategy, up from $48 million just two years ago.

Nine months ago all under-18s enrolled in PHOs became entitled to cheaper primary health care visits, and today it is the turn of over-65s. And from today over-65s enrolled in PHOs, just like under-18s, can also get prescribed medicines for no more than $3 an item.

>From today also we begin rolling out an extension to the breast-screening programme. Instead of the programme only catering for women aged 50 to 64, women will now become eligible from their 45th to their 70th birthdays. The extension will cost $13.2 million in the first year, and is part of the Government's huge investment of nearly $10 billion in providing fair, strong and sustainable public health services. Of all the health events happening today, however, one of the closest to my heart, as a former dental therapist, is the launch right here of the It's Free and It's All Good campaign. It gives me great pleasure to open this important and innovative project.

Before I talk more about the campaign itself, I want to acknowledge Canterbury District Health Board chief executive Jean O'Callaghan, chairman Syd Bradley, other campaign organisers and stakeholders, and, most importantly, the Aranui High School students who have brought the campaign to life.

Over the past few decades there has been a significant improvement in the oral health of young people in New Zealand, although I believe this is only partly a result of my career change, and may have occurred anyway even if I had stayed in the profession.

In recent years benefits have started to level off, however, and far too many young people still suffer from poor oral health.

Oral health is far more than just having good teeth or a nice smile. It is critical to good general health and wellbeing. Diseases of the teeth and gums are one of the most common health problems among people of all ages, including teenagers.

In 2001 the Government decided we needed to redress the situation as those teenagers in greatest need were not accessing dental care, provided largely through private dental practices, in the numbers they should be accessing it. About 63 per cent of New Zealanders under 18 access dental health care. We want to increase that percentage to 85 per cent.

We have allocated $1 million of funding annually for the Adolescent Oral Health Coordination Service, and today's project is the product of that extra investment in adolescent dental health.

What's particularly wonderful about this campaign is that young people - some of them from this school - have been involved in the development and creation of it right from the start.

I'd like to congratulate and thank all those young people who recognised the importance of good dental health, and who have become part of doing something about it.

I also want to acknowledge the work of the Canterbury, South Canterbury and West Coast District Health Boards in helping to develop this project. I believe it is a model for other parts of the country, and I am very pleased to hear that other DHBs are interested in joining this campaign. That is a great credit to all involved in it.

I'd really like to spend my time here talking to you about just how important it is to look after your teeth while you're still young; to stress to you how important it is to get them looked at regularly by your dentist; and to tell you how much you're going to thank yourself when you're much older.

The real point of this campaign, however, is that it involves young people talking to their peers about all that, convincing their peers that going to the dentist is not only important, but that "It's All Good." And it is not only all good, but, as the campaign says, it's free as well.

I am very proud that, thanks to this Government, all young people up to 18 can now get free dental care, even those who aren't in school.

The reality is, however, that it is no good providing free dental healthcare if people don't take advantage of it, and that's why your project is so important.

The campaign has great potential for educating and informing young people. It is a wonderful initiative and you all deserve to feel very proud of it.

It's now my great pleasure to open this campaign officially, and also to present the young people involved in it with a small thank you gift.

I am sure many of your peers, now and in the future, will have cause to thank you as well. Congratulations again to everyone, and thank you for inviting me to an event that makes a special day in health even more special.

ENDS


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