Dental access stats worst for Māori; terrible generally

By Will Trafford

Over 53 per cent of Māori adults are not having their dental needs met. Photo / TeAoMaori.news File

Māori have the poorest access to dental care of any ethnicity in the country according to a new report from the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) and the Auckland City Mission (Te Tāpui Atawhai).

The report, Tooth be told, highlights the generally poor state of oral health in New Zealand.

Forty percent of New Zealand adults cannot get dental treatment; with the gap widening to half of Māori and Pasifika.

New Zealand had the greatest amount of unmet dental treatment demand in 2020, among 11 comparable countries.

Māori adults are worst off with 53.7 per cent of adults having not had their dental needs met, followed by 51.5 per cent of Pasifika, and 42 per cent of adults generally.

Severe tooth decay sees a quarter of a million New Zealanders needing to have a tooth extracted every year.

long-term savings

When a tooth caused excruciating agony, some survey participants admitted to using pliers to yank out their own teeth.

The main barriers are price, long wait periods, and lack of transportation according to  Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (Toi Mata Hauora) executive director Sarah Dalton.

Dalton says the government committed to a policy of free dental care at its Labour party conference in 2018 but there’s been "radio silence since".

“Cost-benefit data shows that upfront support for free and subsidised access to adult dental care, while carrying a weighty upfront price tag, would save millions of health dollars in the longer term,” she says.

“Dental treatment in Aotearoa New Zealand is prohibitively expensive and feeds directly into overall health inequity.”

Dalton says the government needs to commit to a comprehensive plan for tackling oral health.

Sugar consumption high

She says sugar is among the biggest issues, with New Zealand’s level of sugar consumption per capita one of the highest in the OECD, because the government won’t regulate or tax the sector as other nations have.

Beyond the cost-prohibitive nature of dental treatment, there is also a staffing shortage, with New Zealand’s dentist and dental specialist workforce one of the smallest per capita in the OECD. 

"This publication brings together much of what we know about the current state of dental health care in Aotearoa New Zealand” Dalton says.

“It doesn’t paint an uplifting picture”.

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air