Teens avoid den­tists at ‘cru­cial’ time

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

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.’’

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