Photo / NZME
By Matthew Rosenberg, Local Democracy Reporter
A small Hawke's Bay town has had its dental hole filled after two years, albeit temporarily.
Following the March 2020 lockdown, Wairoa lost its last dentist and has been without one ever since.
People living in the small town of about 4500 have been forced to make an hour-and-a-half trip for treatment - either north to Gisborne, or south to Napier.
But on Thursday, the Hawke's Bay DHB announced it was funding a locum dental service to provide adult care for the next year.
The only dental clinic currently operating in the town was for tamariki and rangatahi.
Hawke's Bay DHB executive director planning and funding Emma Foster said bringing in the locum was the result of growing need after no new providers stepped in after the last provider left town.
"The absence of adult dental care in the town has been a financial and physical burden for Wairoa whānau and we have been working hard to find a solution that meets the needs of the people and lifts the well-being of the community," Foster said.
Delivery of the service would be managed by Kahungunu Executive in collaboration with the health board's Community Oral Health Service, and the locum dentists.
The Wairoa community of 4500 will soon have its first dentist since the COVID-19 crisis began. / NZME
The service would run for a minimum of 40 Saturdays until June 2023 until a more permanent solution could be found, Foster said.
Wairoa Mayor Craig Little praised the outcome, while acknowledging that it was a temporary fix.
"Obviously that's been a lot of work by a lot of people to get to where we're at.
"At the moment it'll probably cost you 100 bucks in petrol to get up to Gisborne, or Napier. And then quite often you get a bit done and you have to go back to get the rest done once it's settled down."
Little said the locum would be running out of Wairoa College, the same place that was home to Tō Waha - a week-long volunteer dental initiative that ran in January.
During the course of that week, volunteers from around the country treated 307 patients, working up to 13 hours a day.
More than 300 teeth were pulled and 277 fillings given out.
Further information will be released soon on the booking process for upcoming appointments which are expected to start at the end of May.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air