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New oral health statistics worst on record

20 August 2006

New oral health statistics worst on record

Data showing a decline in the oral health of New Zealand five year olds is a reminder of what is lost when a government fails to invest in families, Health Minister Pete Hodgson said today.

The latest oral health statistics show that the number of five year olds without missing, filled or decayed teeth has continued to decline since the mid-1990s. In 2004, only 52 per cent of five year olds were 'caries free' – this figure is now lower than the average for the 1990s.

Pete Hodgson also released initial data from Northland District Health Board for 2005 showing that the number of five year olds who are caries free has reached 31 per cent – the worst figure since records began in 1990.

Pete Hodgson said that the National Party's failure to invest in oral health services in the 1990s – and their decision to suspend training of dental therapists – had led to a shameful deterioration in the health of children that the government is only now in a position to address.

"The health of children should be a top priority for any government," Pete Hodgson said. "But in the 1990s, the National Government made a series of decisions that led to a decline in public dental services – we're now seeing the evidence that they led to a dramatic deterioration in the health of our children.

"After the number of dental therapists fell by around half during the 1990s, the Labour-led government moved immediately to re-institute the training of dental therapists and opened new training schools in 2001 and 2002. With the first graduates entering the field now, we can reinvest in oral health services with the confidence that there will be a workforce to support them.

"With the decline in oral health status continuing, the need for re-investment could not be more urgent. In May's budget I announced that the Labour-led government would invest $40 million in oral health services over the next four years on top of $100 million in capital spending.

"I'll soon announce the details of significant changes to the way we deliver public oral health services."

Pete Hodgson has previously announced that an improvement in health services for children was one of his top priorities for the 2006/07 financial year.

Attached: Summary of latest oral health statistics

Contact: Jason Knauf, Press Secretary, (04) 471 9918 or (021) 719 881, email: Jason.Knauf@parliament.govt.nz, http://www.beehive.govt.nz/hodgson

Oral health of New Zealand five year olds

In 2004 (the last year with complete national data), the oral health of young New Zealanders continued the decline it began in 1996-97.

- Only 52 per cent of five year olds were caries free (without missing, decayed or filled teeth) – this figure is lower than the average for the 1990s

- Children in fluoridated regions faired far better than children in non-fluoridated regions

- Maori and Pacific children, and children in rural areas have significantly worse oral health than the national average
- Complete 2004 data is available at http://www.newhealth.govt.nz/toolkits/oralhealth/sdsdata2004.xls

Pete Hodgson has also released initial data from 2005 for three district health boards. The data shows remarkable inequalities across regions and ethnicities.

- In Northland, only 31 per cent of 5 year olds are caries free – the worst figure since records began in 1990

- For Maori five year olds in Northland, only 14.3 per cent are caries free, while the figure for Pacific children is only slightly better at 25 per cent

- Hawke's Bay children are significantly closer to the national average, but still only 47.8 per cent of five year olds in the region are without decayed teeth – the figures for Maori and Pacific children are 28.5 and 33.8 per cent respectively

- The Hutt Valley has significantly better oral health than the rest of New Zealand – 66 per cent of five year olds are caries free

- Still, both Maori and Pacific children have significantly worse oral health than others in the Hutt Valley, with around 50 per cent of both groups with decayed, missing or filled teeth

ENDS

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