Teens avoid dentists at ‘crucial’ time
Up to 85 per cent of Porirua’s high school students failed to take up free annual dental checkups last year.
Capital and Coast District Health Board statistics show 85 per cent of students at Aotea College, Bishop Viard College and Porirua College did not visit the dentist in 2010.
The numbers at Mana College are slightly better, but 80 per cent still avoid checkups, and 70 per cent of Tawa College students dodge the dentist.
‘‘The statistics were horrendous,’’ says Tawa’s Centre of Dental Excellence clinical manager Kelly Moloney, who requested the data from the DHB.
Dental care is free for all New Zealand children up to the age of 18 years.
This includes an annual checkup, and any fillings or dental work required after the checkup, short of root canals and orthodontics like braces, Ms Moloney says.
She requested the data after becoming concerned at the low numbers of high school students visiting her clinic for checkups.
While Ms Moloney is open about her business interest in getting students through the door, she says she requested the data as a concerned health professional, and urges students to visit any dentist.
‘‘I want people to be aware that this is free.’’
After the age of 18, patients can expect to pay $115 for a 15-minute checkup with X-rays, and $100 to $400 for an average filling.
What’s more, puberty is a crucial time for learning to look after teeth and to catch any future problems, Ms Moloney says.
‘‘It will save them thousands and thousands of dollars in the future,’’ she says. ‘‘You’re foolish not to.’’ High school students are a particular problem, since dental checkups are not compulsory like in primary school, she says.
Any messages learned in primary school are being forgotten by high school students, Ms Moloney says. Many college students she sees have junk food diets, do not floss and do not drink enough water.
‘‘They don’t brush their teeth, a lot of them. They had poor dental health.’’
One school bucking the trend is Linden’s He Huarahi Tamariki, a school for teenage mothers, where 85 per cent of students go for annual checkups and have enrolled their children at dental clinics.
Kapi-Mana News contacted all colleges quoted in the DHB data, asking why students are avoiding dental checkups.
No principals had seen the statistics before, and several questioned their accuracy.
But all agreed there was a reluctance among college students to visit the dentist, which they said was a national issue, not just a local one.
The principals said students know the service is free, but choose not to go. Principals say it is not a school’s responsibility to book them appointments.
Tawa, Mana and Bishop Viard colleges encouraged students in newsletters or health classes to visit the dentist.
Those schools and Porirua College have recently contracted a DHB mobile dental clinic which visits schools.
Porirua College principal Susanne Jungersen says the mobile clinic has been a success, with all year 13 students having been seen already, with other years soon to follow.
Fear of dentists and lack of access to clinics offering free checkups have stopped students getting checkups in the past, she says.
Aotea College acting principal John Huston also says access is a factor at his school, with only some local dental clinics offering free checkups.
Mana College principal Mike Webster says students are turned off by television depictions of ‘‘torture chamber’’-like dental clinics.
Bishop Viard College principal Hedley Aitken says dental care is not part of families’ annual routines.
‘‘Going to the dentist, going to the doctor, I feel people go when they need to go, rather than make it part of a regular routine.’’
Tawa College principal Murray Lucas believes the closure of many in-house primary school dental clinics means pupils do not learn checkups are an annual must.
‘‘I wonder if the demise of that service has meant that it’s not such an ingrained thing.’’