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Better oral health for rural New Zealanders

24 August 2006

Better oral health for rural New Zealanders

A new focus for oral health services, reflecting a major investment outlined in this year's Budget, is good news for rural New Zealand, Associate Minister of Health Damien O’Connor said today.

"In the last decade there has been significant deterioration in the state of the teeth of some of our young children – especially in rural areas and among Maori and Pacific Island children, said Mr O'Connor, who is also Rural Affairs Minister.

“We know that is partly due to the fact that rural areas are less likely to have fluoridated water supplies, which can be directly linked to poorer oral health. But a significant factor was the running down of services in the nineties, including the ending of all training of dental therapists.

"We now have close to 100 new therapists entering the workforce, and more graduating each year from schools, which were reopened in the first term of this Labour-led Government."

The government’s new strategic vision for the future of oral health in this country, a four-year, $80.4 million, child health package, will see a move away from the current school-based dental service in favour of community based clinics, outreach oral health services and population-based health promotion strategies, Mr O'Connor said.

“These clinics will be a visible part of the community. In some places there will be a fixed building providing a hub of consistently available services while in harder-to-reach areas you are more likely to see a mobile dental unit that will provide care where it is needed.

"Oral health services will continue to have strong links to schools, but will offer greater flexibility of service, more options for health promotion and opportunities for clinical care from other community locations such as marae and community health centres.”

Mr O’Connor says some parts of the country are already anticipating the opportunities the new strategic vision gives them.

“DHBs are already preparing business cases for their regions and will be engaging with their communities about the best way to provide services in their area. By mid 2007 we will start to see changes in the way oral health services are delivered in this country.”

ENDS

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