Poor dental health is the biggest cause of avoidable hospital admissions for young children in the Wellington region, a report shows.
"Kids are being given things in sippy cups and bottles that are neither milk nor water," Otago University head of dental public health Murray Thomson said.
Pacific preschoolers are almost three times more likely to be admitted to hospital than other ethnicities, and Maori preschoolers are four times more likely.
Professor Thomson said tooth decay was the main culprit behind young children being admitted to hospital and operated on under general anaesthetic.
Parents' lack of education, the inability to access dental services, no fluoridation in water, and poor tooth brushing contributed to bad oral health, he said. "It's just another marker of poverty really."
The report, which will be presented to Capital & Coast District Health Board on Friday, also shows an increase in children not having free scheduled dental examinations on time.
Under an overhaul of the region's Bee Healthy Oral Health Service, school dental clinics are being replaced with four mobile dental campervans.
If further treatment is required, preschoolers and primary-aged children need to be taken to a hub in the Greater Wellington region.
Those aged between 13 and 17 will still be treated by private dentists, who have funding agreements with the DHBs.
A Pacific health advocate in Porirua said the shake-up of services did not go far enough to reverse the "horrendous" oral health rates.
"I think there needs to be more integration with the community about how to improve these rates," Utulei Anitpas said.
"There will be no children in Porirua with any lower teeth soon, the way it's going."
Involving community groups, health services and churches, rather than just focusing on schools, could make a difference, as some families did not have the means to transport their children to a school or hub, he said.
"If they're going to continue with ‘you come to us' rather than ‘we go to you', then they're not going to improve these rates."
A recent letter from the Health Ministry to all DHBs sought assurance that rates of late examinations would be reduced by the end of the year.
While late examination rates were troubling, of "more concern" was the growing disparity in late examinations for Maori and Pacific children, the report says.
"The number of enrolled Maori and Pacific children not receiving treatment in the scheduled time frame doubled in 2011."
On top of this, just 24 per cent of Maori and 29 per cent of Pacific preschoolers were enrolled in the Bee Healthy service last year.
- The Dominion Post
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