High fees in New Zealand causing avoidance of dental chair

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Rising treatment costs in New Zealand causing mass avoidance of the dentist’s chair

According to Dr Mo Amso, chief executive of the New Zealand Dental Association, half of New Zealanders are avoiding dental visits due to cost. (Image: Velimir Zeland/Shutterstock)

Mon. 1. April 2024


WELLINGTON, New Zealand: The findings from a national survey of dental fees in 2023 has highlighted a concerning trend in the accessibility of dental care across New Zealand. As reported by Radio New Zealand, the cost of a typical dental visit, which includes an examination, prophylaxis, a radiograph and composite restorations, has surged by nearly a quarter over the past three years, escalating financial barriers to oral care for many New Zealanders.

According to the New Zealand Dental Association, the cost of a standard dental appointment increased by NZ$98 (€56*) between 2020 and 2023. Dr Mo Amso, the association’s chief executive, noted that, although this rise aligned with the inflation rates having an impact on various services and consumer goods, it has led to approximately half of the population avoiding dental visits because of cost constraints.

“It’s very concerning that half of New Zealanders are avoiding the dentist due to cost,” Dr Amso told Radio New Zealand, underscoring the urgency for governmental intervention. He emphasised that the issue predominantly affects the working poor, who find themselves ineligible for government dental subsidies yet unable to afford basic dental care.

“Unless there is a political will to change things, half of the people of New Zealand will continue to be unable to access dental care.”

The survey further revealed regional disparities in dental service costs. It showed that the average cost for a dental examination in late 2023 was NZ$89, but that costs varied significantly within the country. For example, the average cost north of Auckland was NZ$75 and reached NZ$125 for patients in Otago and the wider Southland area. Nationwide, the survey found that patients paid an average of NZ$96 for 30 minutes of tooth scaling, NZ$291 for having a single tooth extracted and NZ$231–NZ$378 for a composite restoration.

Dr Amso told the broadcaster that the problem will not go away and requires leadership. “Unless there is a political will to change things, half of the people of New Zealand will continue to be unable to access dental care,” he said.

In the 2020/2021 New Zealand Health Survey, a significant concern emerged regarding the affordability of dental care for adults. Nearly four out of ten (39.8%) of those aged 15 and over avoided dental visits because of cost. This trend was more pronounced in women (43.3%) compared with men (36.3%). Interestingly, cost was a less prohibitive factor for children and adolescents. Only 1.6% of parents and caregivers of children aged 1–14 years and 2.4% of those of young people aged 15–17 years reported cost as a barrier. This lower rate for the younger population is attributed to their access to publicly funded basic oral healthcare services until their 18th birthday. The avoidance of dental care because of cost varied significantly with age among adults, peaking at 50.7% in the 25–34 years age group and reducing to 17.1% in adults aged 75 years and over.

Editorial note:

* Value given by the OANDA platform for the closing business day of 2023. 

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