Professor Max Abbott, AUT’s Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, commends the Labour Party for adopting a new policy of introducing universal free dental care.
Professor Abbott has long called for measures to enable all New Zealanders to have access to free or affordable dental care. He says it is deplorable that we have a system primarily based on ability to pay rather than health need.
“This means large numbers of people on low incomes cannot access even basic preventative and treatment care while those on high incomes purchase highly technical restorative and cosmetic treatments. Poor oral health is of major concern in its own right. Research additionally shows that it contributes to other health conditions and undoubtedly amplifies socioeconomic and ethnic health disparities.”
Professor Abbott says oral health care delivery needs comprehensive formal review from cradle to grave.
“Unlike the situation for adults, child and adolescent oral health care is provided free. However, under-resourcing and staffing mean that many children are not seen or aren’t seen when they should be. Last year, 40 percent of five year olds examined had tooth decay. Among adults, in addition to those on low incomes, many old, especially frail old people, are neglected and experience serious oral health problems.”
Professor Abbott says there are also major workforce challenges, particularly with regard to oral therapists who provide care for children and adolescents. He says the workforce is aging and that DHBs struggle to recruit sufficient numbers of therapists.
“Logically basic adult oral health care would also be provided by oral therapists rather than dentists. Currently many therapists provide preventative services to adults but they are not permitted to provide treatment. The addition of an adult scope would be the cornerstone to offering universal free or inexpensive dental care. “
Professor Abbott says AUT was doing its bit to help address the growing oral health crisis. Last year AUT increased its intake of oral therapy students from around 30 to 45 and next year it is doubling it to 90. He said AUT was also progressing access to an adult scope for therapists.