Is free dental care an option for all New Zealanders?
AUCKLAND, New Zealand: The beauty of New Zealand’s natural landscapes and the beauty of its population’s oral health are vastly different. According to a new report, almost 50 per cent of all Kiwi adults do not go to the dentist, because it is too expensive. This can be seen in the way that dentists are being treated in the same way as doctors—with patients only going to the dentist when they have a problem—resulting in simple issues often turning into severe cases.
New Zealand’s healthcare system offers free dental care for children up to 18 years of age, however part of the problem is that many young people do not take advantage of these services. According to reports, one third of adolescents do not go for regular check-ups due to a variety of reasons, including a lack of education around the importance of oral health at an early age and the low priority of dental health. This attitude towards dental care has a direct effect on adults, particularly among low-income-earning families that simply cannot afford to pay for treatment when problems develop later in life.
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is now pushing for free dental care for all New Zealanders. In a social media post, Clark wrote: “I am increasingly concerned about the deterioration in New Zealanders’ dental health. We read shocking stories about the state of children's teeth, but there are also many adults who cannot afford regular dental hygiene appointments and basic treatment who end up with serious problems.”
As reported in Stuff.co.nz, New Zealand Dental Association Chief Executive Dr David Crum said: “In terms of where dental care is delivered for adults in New Zealand, it’s a high-quality service model that is delivered through private practice by dentists and beyond that, there’s very little other service provision.” Crum went on to say that if free dental care was to be provided to everyone, it would cost up to NZ$1 billion a year.
With all the talk of free dental care and what improvements can be made to the system, the obvious fact that sometimes gets lost in the debate is that a lot of dental cases are preventable, said Crum. “I don't think this is heading down the track of free care for everybody. I think where it needs to go is really targeted and consistent subsidy for low-income adults and it can only be delivered in private practice, because that’s where the workforce is. It’s also the only vehicle of delivery where there is a dentist in every community.”