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Peter Dunne: Address at Launch of NZ Oral Health Surve

Hon Peter Dunne

Associate Minister of Health

Address at Launch of NZ Oral Health Survey

Turnbull House


Thursday, 16 December 2010

We’re here today to release a significant survey – one which, for the first time in 21 years, gives us a clear and up-to-date picture of the state of oral health in New Zealand.

Overall, the survey shows that the oral health of New Zealanders has improved over time.

It validates the improvements in oral health shown in the annual monitoring of the school dental service.

The Government spends over $100 million each year on providing free dental care to children and teenagers.

We have committed $116 million in capital to reinvest in the service, supported by a further $36 million in additional operating funds. This funding will support DHBs to deliver a better and more effective service, so that our children and teenagers get the best possible start in life.

Care for the health of our children’s teeth has been funded by Government since 1921.

Regular dental checkups are a focus of today’s Community Oral Health Service for children and adolescents.

Regular checkups offer an opportunity for early identification of dental decay, provision of early interventions and preventive services and advice.

We know that oral health in childhood (at age 5) predicts oral health at age 26. This is why the Government continues to commit to publicly-funded oral health services for children and teenagers.

Basic dental care is free for children and teenagers up to their 18th birthday.

The Survey shows that continued access to free oral health care has contributed towards the big improvements in the oral health status of 12-13 year old children between 1988 and 2009.

The collaborative public-private model we have for delivering dentistry for our children and teenagers in NZ has been successful and instrumental in achieving improvements in child and adolescent oral health.

However, disparities still exist within child and adolescent oral health.

All DHBs are now busy implementing changes to improve how they deliver services to children and adolescents. A number of modern oral health facilities and mobile clinics are springing up around the country giving our School Dental Service a much needed injection of new vigour and emphasis.

We are also pushing to have more pre-school children seen and assessed earlier.

The Survey shows that people who have regular checkups have better oral health outcomes.

However, monitoring of adolescents’ use of publicly-funded dental services by the Ministry of Health show that 1 in 3 adolescents (35%) in 2009 did not access the free dental care being provided. We need to encourage our young people to visit the dentist annually.

Furthermore, I encourage our young people who will be leaving the publicly-funded system after they turn 18 to continue with their regular checkups – the Survey shows the benefits of doing this.

The Government also spends $24 million a year to provide a safety net for adults who cannot afford to see a dentist regularly.

Additionally, we spend $40 million a year to provide hospital-based oral health care for people with disabilities and people with other medical conditions who can’t access dental services in a community dentistry setting.

Public health measures, such as water fluoridation and improving awareness of healthier lifestyles (diet), contribute to preventing dental decay for everyone with natural teeth, especially our at-risk populations.

Today’s findings confirm that people living in areas with water fluoridation have better oral health than people who live in areas where there is no water fluoridation. These findings support international evidence that water fluoridation has oral health benefits for both adults and children.

The Ministry of Health will continue to support local authorities and DHBs in their efforts to increase the coverage of optimally fluoridated water in NZ.

Disorders of the teeth and mouth are a common cause of discomfort, pain, disability and poor self-image, and they can be fatal.

Poor oral health can affect people physically and psychologically, influencing how they enjoy life, look, speak, chew, taste food and socialise, as well as affecting their feelings of social wellbeing, and affecting children’s development.

Oral disease and its consequences (such as embarrassment, pain and self-consciousness) can have a profound effect on an individual’s quality of life and their ability to gain employment.

However, dental decay and periodontal disease are mostly preventable. The first line of defence is good self-care.

The Ministry and DHBs, in collaboration with NZDA, will continue to work together to develop information on simple and cost-effective ways of providing good self-care as a first line of defence against dental decay and periodontal disease.

We expect the children in the family and whānau will benefit once the adults lead the way and exemplify good oral health promoting behaviours.

But, for some adults, the cost of seeing the dentist is a significant issue that prevents them from getting the clinical care they need. The Survey showed there was clear evidence of unmet need for dental care among adults, with nearly half of all adults feeling they currently needed dental treatment. Cost was reported as a key barrier to adults’ accessing dental services.

I have asked the Ministry to look at ways that we could maximise the Government’s current investment in oral health services in order to help reduce the barriers for our most at risk families and whānau.

This Survey did not look specifically at the oral health status of older people in residential care.

However, oral health is just as important for our older people, even for those using full and partial dentures. We know that people are keeping more of their natural teeth for longer and it is important that the provision of good oral health care becomes a priority in care for our senior citizens.

A few months ago, the NZDA and the Ministry jointly published the “Healthy Mouth, Healthy Ageing” guide to help caregivers provide good oral care to the older people they support.

In launching the “Healthy Mouth, Healthy Ageing” guide, the Ministry helped fund the NZDA to run several free workshops around the country for caregivers. This was well received.

The Ministry will be making available further workshops to provide training for caregivers and will look at ways to ensure oral health is better integrated into personal care and general health care plans. We will be looking at making oral health care training a core component of caregiver training and accreditation.

Going forward, the Ministry will be implementing a continuous national health survey programme, which includes the collection of self-reported oral health information on an ongoing basis with a more comprehensive oral health component planned for several years hence. Since population-based oral health data will be collected more frequently in the future, we will be better placed to monitor the oral health of our nation to ensure the fruits of our investments can be seen, and if necessary, make changes.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the numerous oral health providers working in our communities, including:

- dental therapists and dental assistants in DHBs’ community oral health services,

- Maori oral health providers around the country who deliver care for school children, teenagers and low income adults

- Private dentists who deliver dental care for our teenagers and, most importantly, the general population.

We must not forget the dental surgeons and many other oral health professionals who help out with hospital-based care and low-cost adult care.

The achievements shown by the survey are a result of the combined effort of all these committed clinicians and professionals.

Thank you.


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