Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A sore truth in New Zealand dental care

I was watching 60 minutes about 60 minutes ago. The programme talked about problems with dental care in New Zealand. People were finding it hard to afford with one man dieing of an abcess. Dental problems don't occur just in New Zealand, they occur in Canada and Britain as well. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do something about them.

Southland District Healthboard Director Tim McKay was on the program. When asked why things are expensive he replied(but don't quote me on this) "We are perfectionists. And we like working to the gold standard." He also said "We could do better." and "It's difficult to learn how to provide cost effective dentistry." Of course 60 minutes wouldn't show what the full interview and I think they might of wanted Tim to look like a dork. But he's right, there are problems surrounding dentistry. A dentist studies hard for five years for their licence. They'd want it to be worth their while after working as a student and having a big loan. But should this worth be in money or satisfaction from helping others? These issues don't mean we shouldn't try to make dentistry affordable.

Jim Anderton thinks we need to invest 100 million each year for effective dentistry. That comes to around $25 per person in New Zealand to have affordable dental care. Jim Anderton's often thought of as a "bludging MP" who is a labour voter who wanted extra money by being in another party. I don't always agree with him and think he should rethink his stance on marijuana. Especially after saying "Alcohol is by far the most damaging drug in the country" but not pushing for a alcohol ban. But I think he's well-intentioned, smart and has good ideas. We need solutions if we want more accessible dental care, it wont be cheap but it'll have a great payoff. He also stated how because we don't subsidise adults, they end up in our hospitals costing millions. This is partly due to people not being able to afford it.

Access to healthcare is a human right, article 25. While many of us have access to emergency care, it is not all healthcare. Just because someone can get to the emergency room doesn't mean they will be ok. They could become injured severely or die.

The young adults 18+ and the elderly in this country both have problems accessing dental care. The head of AUT's school of oral health explains that “There is a gap [for them] but there is gap for a lot of adult patients including low income earners and beneficiaries – these people are all falling through the cracks". This was in 2006 and while some strides had been made to get better oral healthcare, they couldn't be rolled out completely before the new National government.

The New Zealand Medical Journal investigated the cost of oral healthcare for the elderly. The concluded that: "Problems exist in the provision of affordable oral health care for the older population in Aotearoa New Zealand. They struggle to afford dental care. They receive little financial support to access oral healthcare services and are dependent on developing their own strategies to enable such care. Health professionals and policy decisionmakers’ challenge is to bridge this gap."

This is not an easy issue but it's only going to get worse if it isn't addressed. While National have put some preventatitive strategies in place, it doesn't mean we should ignore problems we have now.

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