Rot­ting teeth a mil­lion-dol­lar prob­lem

The Horowhenua Mail - - FRONT PAGE - KAROLINE TUCKEY

Hun­dreds of Manawatu¯ chil­dren with rot­ten teeth are cost­ing the MidCen­tral District Health Board more than $1 mil­lion a year.

More than 300 chil­dren are put un­der gen­eral anaes­thetic each year to have the teeth pulled, cost­ing about $4000 each, Phil Mar­shall, clin­i­cal direc­tor of MidCen­tral DHB school den­tal ser­vices said.

About 100 more chil­dren and young peo­ple are wait­ing for the much-needed treat­ment.

And the prob­lem is only get­ting worse.

Na­tional Min­istry of Health fig­ures show the teeth of 6600 chil­dren were so dis­eased, they needed in­ter­ven­tion un­der gen­eral anaes­thetic last year.

Al­though Manawatu¯’s num­bers were ‘‘mid­dle of the road’’ com­pared with those fig­ures, they were get­ting worse, Mar­shall said.

‘‘Those num­bers seem to have gone up rather than down. We don’t seem to have made any real in­roads.

‘‘They are not par­tic­u­larly good, I have to say.’’

As well as the more se­ri­ous cases, MidCen­tral has a back­log of nearly 8000 chil­dren and young peo­ple over­due to be seen by a den­tist or den­tal tech­ni­cian. Most are sched­uled to be seen once a year.

The num­ber wait­ing has grown from 5437 in late 2016. Late last year, MidCen­tral said it ex­pected to cut the back­log in half by June 2017 by do­ing some­thing about staff short­ages, but this has not hap­pened.

The ser­vice should have about 22 staff mem­bers, but in­stead has only 17 peo­ple and faces on­go­ing chal­lenges re­cruit­ing, Mar­shall said.

Den­tal tech­ni­cians’ train­ing had been ex­panded, al­low­ing them to qual­ify for more lu­cra­tive jobs in pri­vate prac­tice, while big­ger salaries of­fered in Auck­land were also pulling some away from the re­gions, he said.

Den­tal prob­lems can be a se­ri­ous threat to health and well­be­ing through blood in­fec­tions, dam­age to chil­dren’s hear­ing and heart, de­vel­op­men­tal chal­lenges be­cause of dif­fi­culty speak­ing, and learn­ing be­cause of mouth pain.

The prob­lems were partly due to a change in the way den­tal ser­vices were de­liv­ered to chil­dren, which had re­sulted in less time be­ing spent teach­ing chil­dren about good den­tal habits, Mar­shall said.

About 10 years ago, den­tal ser­vices for chil­dren were re­struc­tured na­tion­ally by the min­istry, with a shift to in­vest­ments in den­tal hubs and mo­bile den­tal clin­ics. Den­tal clin­ics in schools were widely phased out.

‘‘Orig­i­nally, the ther­a­pists had a lot of time at schools, but they don’t have the lux­ury for that now, so you’ve seen ex­ten­sive de­cay and they re­fer them to the hospi­tal for a gen­eral anaes­thetic. As time goes on, na­tion­ally, that num­ber has in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly.’’

Fix­ing the prob­lem would take an­other re­struc­ture and ma­jor in­vest­ment, he said.

Chil­dren from poorer so­cioe­co­nomic ar­eas were more prone to se­ri­ous den­tal health prob­lems, match­ing na­tional trends, he said. This was of­ten be­cause par­ents were pass­ing on bad den­tal care rou­tines.

Horowhenua and Tararua, where the wa­ter was not flu­o­ri­dated, also had worse statis­tics for de­cay in chil­dren un­der five, Mar­shall said.

PHOTO: 123RF

Se­ri­ous den­tal is­sues can cause dan­ger­ous health prob­lems, pain and learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties for chil­dren.

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