Better dental care ideas for Pasifika youngsters

Lee Smith
Lee Smith
An innovative University of Otago study suggests that Pasifika youngsters have good ideas on how to overcome the serious inequalities in dental care that affect them.

Lead author Lee Smith, a research fellow at the university's School of Dentistry, said Pasifika youngsters were "sitting at the forefront of inequalities'' in dental care and were well placed to provide ideas for solutions.

"Policymakers should look at implementing at least some of these suggestions for change, or at least treating them as a conversation-starter on how to address the inequities in Pasifika adolescents' oral health care access,'' Dr Smith said.

The study sought out the views of Pasifika adolescents, and the suggestions included having "more approachable, younger and Pasifika/Maori oral health professionals''.

Other ideas were reducing the cost of oral healthcare and products; making access to the clinic easier, including having transport arranged for them or having a dentist visit their school.

The dental clinic could also be made more welcoming and youth-friendly, which could be as simple as changing the radio station.

Another recommendation was to increase the importance placed on oral health in Pasifika families and communities through education in Pasifika languages, including through the Pasifika communities' churches, as well as through initiatives using visual and social media.

Despite dental care being free for all adolescents under the age of 18, Pasifika adolescents living in New Zealand were less likely than their peers of other ethnicities to access it, Dr Smith's research revealed.

Potential barriers to access included a "lack of arranged appointments, unwelcoming clinic environments, and the financial hardship some Pasifika families experience''.

A total of 17 Pasifika adolescents were recruited by researchers and they took part in focus groups in which they interviewed 59 Pasifika young people in four cities about their attitudes, understandings and experiences of oral healthcare.

Few previous dental studies had "included adolescent voices'', and this study, published in the New Zealand Dental Journal was rare in dentistry for that reason.

Further analysis of data collected for the 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey showed that less than a third (31.1%) of Pasifika adolescents (aged 15 to 19 years) had visited their oral health professional in the previous year compared with their "non-Pacific'' counterparts (62.9%)

Dr Smith suggested brushing twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste, including gums and tongue as well as teeth.


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