COVID-19 lockdown is having far reaching impacts on health, including oral health

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COVID-19 lockdown is having far reaching impacts on health, including oral health

Media release from Māori Oral Health Quality Improvement Group
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Press release from the Māori Oral Health Quality Improvement Group

The Māori Oral Health Quality Improvement Group is calling for DHB’s to act ethically and morally to appropriately address the impacts of COVID-19 on oral health care.

Dr Justin Wall, Chair of the Māori Oral Health Quality Improvement Group says DHB’s have a responsibility to consider the full scope of impacts that COVID-19 has on the health system, including oral health care.

“Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown, arbitrary requirements, and a lack of service coordination, there is an ever-increasing backlog of rangatahi who need, and could potentially miss out, on necessary and free dental treatment,” Dr Wall said.

“Every New Zealander who turned 18 years during the COVID-19 lockdown currently have an additional six months to access their last publically funded dental check.”

“However, as more and more young people turn 18, the backlog is growing by the day. This ofcourse has the potential to overwhelm dentists and dental therapists, which could ultimately mean that many rangatahi will miss out on what is potentially the last dental assessment and treatment they will recieve in their adult life.”

“DHB’s have an ethical and moral responsibility to address this and must extend the expemption period for free adolescent services for at least 18 – 24 months to get on top of the backlog and ensure that all 18 year olds receive rightful access to dental treatment.”

Dr Wall also believes that current arbitrary rules around permissions for dental therapist’s to provide care to adults (over the age of 18 years) needs to change.

Dental therapists are qualified to provide a wide range of general practice dental treatment to tamariki and rangatahi, however there are currently only 9 in the entire country who are certified to provide treatment to adults.

“That certification or ‘scope of practice’ serves no purpose other than to ensure that adult dental care is primarily privatised, placing it out of reach for many New Zealanders,” Dr Wall said.

“Due to this, many Māori, Pacific peoples, and all those on low incomes suffer poor oral health in silence, and often only seek treatment when in pain.”

“Broadening the dental therapy scope of practice to allow dental therapists to provide treatment to adults to address the current backlog, along with DHB’s extending the exemptions to 18 to 24 months, will make significant inroads for all New Zealanders, including Māori.”

“Its bizarre – once rangatahi are 18 years and one day old, they dont wake up and discover that they have a completely different set of teeth that means that only a dentist is able to provide general dental treatment.”

“Swift action needs to be taken immediately to minimise the longer term impacts of poor oral health of adults in the future. Māori, Pacific peoples and those on lower incomes should have equitable access to oral health care. ”

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