9 Apr 2013

Maori health suffering due to lack of dental treatment

6:38 am on 9 April 2013

Dental health specialists say Maori health is suffering from a dire shortage of dentists in rural and deprived urban Maori communities.

Maori Oral Health Providers Quality Improvement Group chairperson dentist Justin Wall said Maori health and life expectancy is being reduced by their inability to access dental care.

Figures from a 2011/12 Ministry of Health survey show Maori adults are nearly one-and-a-half times more likely than non-Maori to have had all their teeth removed due to decay, abscess, infection or gum disease.

Mr Wall said there is a big disparity between Maori and non-Maori oral health, with Maori suffering the most from pain, dental abscesses - the most preventable admission to hospital - and death from dental septicaemia.

Mr Wall said they often have to prioritise on spending money on the basics of life in order to survive rather than going to the dentist.

The survey also shows only 38% of Maori adults have visited a dental health care worker in the past 12 months, compared to 53% of European or 'other' ethnic groups. The figure is 33% for Pasifika and 37% for Asian adults.

Raukura Hauora O Tainui agrees dentists are desperately needed in rural and deprived Maori communities.

chief executive Wayne McLean said even if Maori could afford to go, there is often no-one available in the area to provide the service.

Mr McLean said more Maori training as dentists would help resolve the issue, but he believes the University of Otago needs to reduce training costs or keep them at a level which enable Maori to survive.

He said a rethink of the student loan system would also make dentistry a more viable option for Maori.

The University of Otago says seven of the 55 students who gained entry to dental school this year were Maori.