Wait now two years for dental treatment

The school, which has 70,000 to 80,000 patient visits a year, is viewed as an inexpensive...
The school, which has 70,000 to 80,000 patient visits a year, is viewed as an inexpensive alternative to private practices. Photo: ODT files

Parents  joining the Dunedin dental school’s queue may have to wait up to two years for treatment because of a Covid-19 double whammy.

Don Schwass
Don Schwass
Precautions to prevent the virus spreading have constrained the University of Otago’s Faculty of Dentistry operation this year as Covid-19’s financial fallout contributes to the school facing unprecedented demand for its services.

The school, which has 70,000 to 80,000 patient visits a year, is viewed as an inexpensive alternative to private practices.

It has been receiving more inquiries from patients looking to enrol and that has led the faculty to advise the wait time for some clinics - especially routine work - could be up to two years.

Those requiring treatment more promptly may need to use other providers.

Otago Faculty of Dentistry clinical director Don Schwass said decisions were still being made on a case-by-case basis - and anybody who really needed to be seen would be - but waiting for non-urgent treatment might not be the best health choice for some people.

The faculty has told some prospective patients: "As your dental health is of paramount importance, you should realise that the responsibility for the impact of any delays in seeking treatment on your health remains yours, such that you should consider whether to seek more timely treatment elsewhere privately. You will need to make the decision as to how urgent you think your need is."

The faculty was unable to see new patients for non-urgent treatment immediately.

"We do what we can to see as many as we possibly can."

The faculty was receiving up to 30 inquiries a day from people looking to enrol at the school, which was about the level normally received in a week.

"More people than ever before are wanting to be patients."

"Anecdotally, Covid has imposed economic constraints. Finances are tight for some."

The dental school was primarily a teaching facility and, from a teaching point of view, there was only so much need for routine, non-urgent work.

Students learning the craft could sometimes take a little longer to carry out work than dentists in the workforce but some patients were pleased to contribute to their learning.

Private providers also referred work to the school and it dealt with treatment needs and other situations that could be complex, such as treating people who had developmental syndromes.

"The community provides the breadth of experience that our students need and we’re certainly grateful for that. We’ve got a very supportive community."

Dr Schwass said anybody who genuinely had an emergency would be treated in a timely manner. He understood that private practices in the city were also busy.

Students stopped carrying out work during autumn’s Covid-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown but had got through ample practical work since, Dr Schwass said.

Working under Level 2 conditions caused some scheduling issues and the faculty had sought to avoid congestion in the waiting area.

The full range of dental care had continued in Level 2.




New Zealand is like a 3rd world country when it comes to dental care. Many kiwis would rather look like they chew gravel rather than spend a couple of hundred dollars a year to have their teeth cleaned. I don't understand the logic of many who can justify cigarettes and alcohol over routine dental care. The dental school is an alternative to private dental care not a replacement for dental care.