Thousands of New Zealand children overdue for dental surgery

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Thousands of New Zealand children overdue for dental surgery

Dental experts in New Zealand say that government intervention is required to reduce lengthy waiting lists for paediatric dental surgery. (Image: arthierry/Shutterstock)

Tue. 29. August 2023


AUCKLAND, New Zealand: The number of children in New Zealand needing dental surgery is growing for a number of reasons, among them poor prevention, increased consumption of sugary food and drink, and too small a workforce. Dentists in New Zealand have voiced their frustration about the long waiting lists for paediatric dental surgery, saying that they feel unable to reduce the nation’s burgeoning need for urgent oral care in children.

Data from Te Whatu Ora—Health New Zealand, the public health agency, showed that, at the end of March, 4,001 children aged 14 years or younger were waiting for dental surgery. News network Newstalk ZB, which saw the data, reported that the list has remained alarmingly long for a period of 12 months despite efforts to reduce it. The broadcaster said that 3,949 children were on the waiting list in April last year, and the list had 4,134 names on it in January. The number of surgeries performed monthly has varied from 499 in April 2022 to 823 in March.

Dr Mo Amso, chief executive of the New Zealand Dental Association, told the broadcaster that the association had seen the trend emerging over a number of years and that the country was not doing enough to prevent dental disease in young people. “We are getting more and more children having more and more complex and advanced dental disease than we have ever done in history,” Dr Amso said, adding that access to dental care and the severity of disease in many children had worsened as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns. He said that the New Zealand dental workforce had not expanded in line with population growth and that closing the country’s borders during the pandemic had significantly affected the oral healthcare workforce.

Dr Amso said that the number of young people requiring dental surgery was now increasing at such a rate that it was becoming impossible to reduce it without policy interventions by the government. “Our members, dentists and dental specialists will continue to turn up to work every day frustrated, disheartened and somewhat disengaged, because they feel absolutely unable to tackle those ever-increasing wait-lists for children to access general anaesthetic treatment,” Dr Amso said.

He called on the government to “review its strategy for oral health and set a plan for some short-, medium- and long-term action—significantly focusing on the prevention of disease, treating disease and investing in the workforce that will carry out the oral healthcare prevention and treatment.”

Dental disease is the leading cause of preventable hospitalisations in New Zealand and the 2022 Tooth Be Told report on the nation’s oral health found that 40% of New Zealanders and half of the Māori and Pacific Islander population could not afford to see a dentist.

A spokesperson for the Taranaki branch of the New Zealand Dental Association told news media website Stuff in July that children in the North Island region typically had to wait longer than 12 months for dental extractions requiring general anaesthetic. “We know that around half of New Zealanders currently avoid regular visits to the dentist, many of those due to cost, so with the cost of living continuing to soar, this situation will only worsen, and this number may rise further,” the spokesperson commented.

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