National Oral Health Day sees progress in children’s oral health

  • Peter Dunne

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, in marking National Oral Health Day today, says additional investment in child dental services has seen a major improvement in our children’s oral health, but there is more to do.

“More children are now benefiting from the free services provided by our Community Oral Health Service, with an encouraging decline in tooth decay which brings lifetime benefits.

“Between 2005 and 2013, the proportion of five-year-olds free of tooth decay has increased from 52 per cent to 57.5 per cent and the proportion of children without decay at Year 8 has gone up from 44 to 54 per cent. The proportion of Maori five-year-olds who are caries-free (decay or cavity free) has improved from 30 per cent to 37 per cent.

“We know we need to maintain this momentum by ensuring our children are enrolled with the free oral health services and that they get the right support to help them develop and maintain good oral hygiene and good oral health”, says Mr Dunne.

The Community Oral Health Service (formerly the School Dental Service) has undergone a major transformation over the last four years with $116m in new capital funding provided to District Health Boards (DHBs) to build and redevelop dental facilities, and an additional $32m each year to support services that provide free basic dental care to New Zealand children.

Since 2008, an additional 112 mobile dental units have been deployed, with the total fleet now at 169 and an extra 168 fixed “hub” clinics have also opened. 

DHBs have also been focusing on increasing the number of teenagers and preschool children enrolled in the Community Oral Health Service. In 2013, 73 per cent of pre-schoolers were enrolled, compared with 49 per cent in 2009 and 74 per cent of adolescents (school year 9 up to their 18th birthday) were seen by publicly-funded dental services, mostly provided by private dentists contracted by DHBs.

“As a result of this extra funding, the number of dental assistants has almost doubled – from 222 to 419 – freeing up dental therapists’ time so that they can see more children.  The service now provides around one million free oral health appointments for pre-school to intermediate students each year.

“The service is taking a proactive approach focussing on family and whanau attending appointments with their children, health education for self-care, prevention of ill-health, and early intervention with the aim of reducing tooth decay and the need for fillings and extractions”, says Mr Dunne.

Enrolments to the Community Oral Health Service can be made by calling 0800 825583 8.30am to 5pm Monday-Friday.