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A 10,000-strong petition calling for major changes in what dental care for adults is provided will be handed over today.
Dr Assil Russell is the founder of Revive a Smile, a charity that has treated thousands of desperate Kiwis who are unable to afford huge bills to get painful, rotting and infected teeth fixed.
People who tried to fix their own teeth in so-called “DIY dentistry” are seen by Revive a Smile at least monthly, including one man who took a power drill to the shards of his wisdom tooth.
More than 10,000 people have signed Russell’s petition calling for a subsidy for dental care for people who need it and an increase in the age for free dental care to 20 years. Russell will hand it to Hamilton East MP David Bennett, who will present it to Parliament.
“We are seeing people come in with serious infections who have left treatment way too late. But these dental health problems are entirely preventable if people get regular check-ups and early treatment,” she said.
“This petition shows there is huge public support for dental health to be considered as important as overall general health. The government needs to step up.”
Earlier this month the Herald revealed Health Minister David Clark is considering official advice on what dental care is provided to adults. There is speculation among health advocates that Labour could make expanded dental care a policy ahead of the 2020 general election.
Clark has repeatedly said there is “huge, un-met need in dental care”, but there won’t be significant reforms this side of the election.
The Waitematā District Health Board (DHB) has confirmed support for a “comprehensive dental service for all New Zealanders”, with staff there noting long queues at pain clinics and people turning up to the emergency department (ED).
Any move to provide more subsidised or free dental care would carry a huge cost. At present about $198 million a year is spent on oral health services, with most covering universal services for children and teenagers. Adults must pay the full cost, and bills can run into thousands of dollars.
Roughly a third of Kiwis have untreated tooth decay, the last comprehensive oral health survey in 2009 found. Almost half of adults had avoided routine dental treatment in the previous year, because of cost.
Work and Income can give out grants of not more than $300 a year for emergency dental treatment.
The cost of dental work
* Examination only: $76
* Single tooth extraction: $229
* Each addition tooth taken: $138
* Root filling: $735
* One surface filling: $153
* Composite crown: $408
* Hygienist - half-hourly rate: $110
* Full upper and lower dentures: $2557
Source: The average fee charged by NZ Dental Association members, according to the association’s 2018 fee survey.