Free clinics ease dental pain

FILLING TIME: Dentist Rashid Barushi, left and assistant Brittany Le Sueur work on Simon James Martelletti at the AUT health unit
FILLING TIME: Dentist Rashid Barushi, left and assistant Brittany Le Sueur work on Simon James Martelletti at the AUT health unit

Last time he was at the dentist, Simon Martelletti, 29, got so worked up, he ran out of the clinic before they could pull his teeth out.

But when he heard he could get his front tooth filled for no charge, he decided to tough it out and register for the free clinic.

Hundreds of high-need patients are finally getting access to the dental care they can't afford thanks to volunteer clinics set up in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. 

The initiative is in its third year and part of oral health month. It is run by Colgate and the New Zealand Dental Association. 

Martelletti said with his often heavy drinking, the cost involved with going to the dentist and the time it took to care for his teeth, he didn't always follow simple advice.
Getting the message out there to all New Zealanders, more than half of whom didn't always brush their teeth before going to bed according to Horizon Research, was a priority of the clinics.

Patients needed a community services card to qualify and were found through advertising and word-of-mouth - demand was so high that it didn't take long for the spots to fill up.

Dentist Rashid Bharushi's basic advice was to brush regularly, keep up with flossing and keep sugar to a minimum.

Bharushi volunteered to work on the patients as he believed the main thing holding people back from dentist visits was the high cost. 

He said if equipment was cheaper, the service dentists provided would be cheaper too.

''Dentistry in New Zealand is pretty expensive and we live in an isolated country. There's very little competition in buying products. The government could find a way to make it easier for people to import things or increase funding.''

Bharushi said about half of the people he saw only went to the dentist when there was a painful problem or the last resort was hospital treatment.

Senior oral health educator Deepa Krishnan said many New Zealanders didn't know the major causes of tooth decay.

She said more education was needed on the basic steps involved in oral hygiene and to let people know that tooth decay wasn't inevitable.
Horizon Research figures on oral health:

57 percent sometimes forget to brush their teeth before bed

83 per cent agree nothing looks worse than bad teeth

72 per cent wished they had taken better care of their teeth

70 per cent believe getting cavities happens to everyone

53 per cent believe tooth decay is inevitable

42 per cent do not know the major cause of tooth decay

To best look after your teeth:

Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste

Change your toothbrush every three months

Floss daily and use mouthwash

Go to the dentist regularly, not only when there's a problem