Dental work for poor should focus on prevention - dentists

by Sarah Robson / 21 August, 2017

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

Diet and deprivation are take a toll on teeth according to one dentist. Photo / Getty Images

Making dental checkups more affordable would lead to less expensive work later on, say dentists.

Tens of millions of dollars are being spent each year on emergency dental treatment for the poor, and dentists are calling for a better system which can get people seen before they need expensive work.

Figures from the Ministry of Social Development show Work and Income has given out 400,000 emergency grants over the past six years, costing more than $140 million.

People over the age of 18 have to pay for their dental visits, but those on benefits or low incomes can access emergency dental grants of up to $300 a year through the scheme.

If the treatment costs more than that, they will have to pay back the difference.

Lynn, who lives in Auckland and is on a benefit, has used the grant twice over the last couple of years.

The first time, she needed three of her wisdom teeth out and a filling - a total cost of $1300. She got the grant and the rest she paid back to Work and Income at $7 a week.

Then she needed some more work done, which was likely to cost $1700.

"I had to get my [other] wisdom tooth removed and my molar, because there was a hole in my gums where food was getting trapped and it was giving me an abscess, so it was an emergency to have to get it removed."

Scott Waghorn runs six dental practices in Auckland, including Dental Care West, New Zealand's largest.

For $300, you could usually get two teeth removed, or a couple of fillings, he said, but that could be avoided altogether if the problems were caught earlier.

"It's just a small decay that's left for a long time and then a longer time and then even more time. That little decay nibbles into the tooth, causes a huge amount of pain and infection, then they go Work and Income and get the grant."

Dr Waghorn said the root causes of poor oral health also needed a closer look.

"The government needs to focus on what is causing this, as opposed to the 'ambulance at the bottom of the cliff' scenario.

"We know the two major things that cause this are diet and deprivation, certainly some work is being done, but a lot more needs to be done so we can save money at the other end."

Wellington's Simply Dental general manager Rachel Bridgeman said tooth decay was easily avoided and given the wider health benefits in terms of reducing obesity and diabetes, there should be a greater focus on prevention.

She said some patients had teeth so decayed that they could not be saved and there was no option other than to remove them.

Making dental check-ups more affordable, and therefore more regular, would be a better use of money, she said.

"It's actually more expensive - not just on an economic level, but on a social impact level it's more expensive - for people to be suffering from a disease that is preventable.

"People missing out on jobs because their teeth don't quite look the part, or taking time off work."

Dental Association chief executive David Crum said that approach would not be cheaper, however.

"You would have to put a vastly bigger sum in to prevent this sort of disease pattern," he said.

"The important thing around this issue, for me anyway, is that it really is important to keep this safety net in place so people who need treatment immediately, but cannot afford it, can still access it."

Lynn thought all dentists should be offering affordable payment plans for everyone, but that the government had a part to play as well by partially subsidising dental visits and treatment in the same way as doctors' visits and prescription medication.

"It just makes things a lot easier for not just beneficiaries but for every New Zealander to go in and get their teeth done," she said.

According to the figures from the Ministry of Social Development, about $24 million is spent making around 68,000 grants each year.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

Latest

How to know if you have coeliac disease
92118 2018-06-18 00:00:00Z Health

How to know if you have coeliac disease

by The Listener

Coeliac NZ suggests you consider getting tested if you have some or all of the following symptoms of coeliac disease.

Read more
For coeliac disease sufferers, there's hope of treatment on the horizon
92091 2018-06-18 00:00:00Z Nutrition

For coeliac disease sufferers, there's hope of tre…

by Nicky Pellegrino

As many as 100,000 New Zealanders, many of them undiagnosed, are afflicted by coeliac disease.

Read more
As Jacinda Ardern takes her baby exit - the show goes on
92466 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Politics

As Jacinda Ardern takes her baby exit - the show g…

by Graham Adams

The PM can happily go off on maternity leave knowing there is a cast of colourful and capable people to fill the gap — most notably Winston Peters.

Read more
The Spanish flu pandemic killed more than WWI. Are we prepared for the next?
92222 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Health

The Spanish flu pandemic killed more than WWI. Are…

by Sally Blundell

This year marks a century since a flu pandemic killed 9000 NZers. Three more such plagues have swept the world since then – and another is inevitable.

Read more
How to stay safe from the flu this winter
92238 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Health

How to stay safe from the flu this winter

by Sally Blundell

According to research, soap and water are more effective at removing the flu virus than alcohol-based hand-rubs.

Read more
How Las Vegas gets people coming back for more
86454 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Travel

How Las Vegas gets people coming back for more

by Sharon Stephenson

Sharon Stephenson swore once was enough, but here she is, back in Sin City.

Read more
How to understand New Zealand's political tribes
92212 2018-06-16 00:00:00Z Social issues

How to understand New Zealand's political tribes

by Jane Clifton

In New Zealand politics, small groups often exert more influence than large tribes.

Read more
Revealing Earth's secrets: How JOIDES deep earth sampling missions help us all
92306 2018-06-16 00:00:00Z Science

Revealing Earth's secrets: How JOIDES deep earth s…

by Jenny Nicholls

When an odd-looking ship came to NZ in May, few would've known it was a symbol of one of the world’s oldest and most successful scientific collabs.

Read more