‘Very, very expensive’
Lack of dentists in rural areas puts patients at risk
People living in rural areas in the Whanganui region may have poorer dental health due to the difficulty of accessing a dentist for routine checkups.
Dentist Hadleigh Reid, director of Victoria Dental Whanganui, has been working one day a week at Carpenter’s Dental Taihape to fill a gap in services.
“I’ve only been working up here the last month or so because we didn’t have a dentist here for a little bit. People here are grateful to have treatment done.”
Reid said a lack of dentists in rural areas “without a doubt” impacted how often people got their annual check-ups.
“I have noticed that people here have kind of put things off, waiting for someone to come again. People will neglect their dental health a lot more if there’s no dentist accessible or if they’re not able to see someone easily.”
Reid said generally, it was harder to attract dentists to smaller towns and regional New Zealand.
“From my side as an employer, it tends to be: if there’s more dentists graduating and more dentists looking for work, it’s easier to fill roles in different cities and smaller towns; when things get a bit tight, as the labour market has been recently, it becomes more difficult.”
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) executive director Sarah Dalton said there were geographical barriers to care.
“We find increasingly there simply are no dentists, so whether you can afford it or not is irrelevant because there’s no dentist for you to see nearby.”
Dalton said ASMS would like Te Whatu Ora — Health New Zealand to directly employ dentists who could be deployed to rural and remote areas.
“Even if there isn’t a clinic, there may be dental buses that can travel around and make sure they’re there on a regular basis.”
Dalton said it would be cheaper for the Government to offer preventive and early-stage treatment.
“If you wait until they’re so sick they have to be admitted to hospital, that’s the most expensive way to treat people.”
A recent poll commissioned by ASMS found only 43 per cent of people had visited a dentist in the last year.
Dalton said the only way for people to access financial support for dentist appointments was through grants from the Ministry of Social Development, but these were an “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” solution.
“If you haven’t been to the dentist for four or five years, there is inevitably going to be a lot of work needing to be done and it will be uncomfortable, and, currently, it’s very, very expensive.”
Cost was also a significant barrier to treatment, as the poll found threequarters of adults in New Zealand delayed a dentist appointment because of the price.
The poll was conducted between January 24 and February 7 this year, with 1286 nationally representative people sampled across New Zealand. It has a positive and negative margin of error of 2.7 per cent.