The south lags in adults' oral care

02:51, Mar 25 2014
Keifer Harris
REMINDER: Patient Keifer Harris, 12, of Dipton, with Doctor Rabbit, Sharks basketball player Kevin Braswell and Southern Steel netball player Rachel Rasmussen mark World Oral Health Day at Southland Hospital.

Southerners are having their teeth checked but have more cavities and decay than the national average.

Ministry of Health statistics show 10.6 per cent of southern adults aged 45 to 64 had one or more teeth removed in the past 12 months because of poor oral care - a figure nearly 2 per cent higher than the national average.

Yesterday was World Oral Health Day, which promoted the importance of dental hygiene.

Southern District Health Board dental public health specialist Tim Mackay said a focus on children's oral health had improved statistics, but access was limited for adults.

"New Zealand has a free service till someone is 18, but then it is all privately funded by the individual - except for some vulnerable adults or emergency care - it is mostly funded out of their own back pockets," he said.

Some adults were limited by access and finance, he said.


"Limitations like how many dentists practise down here and also the impact of a financial downturn have affected services," he said. "[We] have been working really hard to promote the importance of everyone looking after their teeth both now and throughout their lives."

Figures show 88.8 per cent of children in the region have seen a dental healthcare worker in the past 12 months compared with 79.9 per cent nationally.

The same figures show girls aged one to 14 are half as likely to have tooth decay compared with boys the same age.

However, Dr Mackay disputed that figure, saying that variance was not shown in locally compiled statistics.

"When a child turns 13 they are enrolled with a private dentist, which I suspect these figures show that is a barrier for some children.

"We haven't recorded that bias in the zero-to-12 age groups."

He said the public health service had also noticed people living in lower economic areas had more decay than those in more "well off" suburbs.

"The school dental service shows there is a gap between Maori and Asian dental health care when compared to that of New Zealand Europeans," Dr Mackay added.

The Southland Times