Just one in five kaumatua use dentist

8:24 pm on 13 October 2015

A Māori dental surgeon says evidence that less than 20 percent of elderly Māori visit a dentist is a wake-up call to oral health services.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The University of Auckland data is part of a long-term study of elderly living in New Zealand, focusing on Māori between 80 and 90 years old, and by non-Maori aged 85.

The study has found that 18 percent of kaumātua (elderly Māori) visited the dentist in the past year, down from 35 percent for non-Māori.

A dental public health specialist and former president of the Māori Dental Association, Dr Pauline Koopu, said it was unfortunate that there was less access to services for kaumātua.

She said elderly could be put off by the cost of dental care and the fear it will hurt, but something needed to be done to get them in more frequently.

"It's a good wake up call to oral health services to ensure that they are meeting the needs of their kaumātua in their community."

Dr Koopu said although a high proportion of elderly have dentures, it was still important that they have dental check-ups.

"Teeth are connected to the general well-being of the body so most likely any pain infection or swelling can be picked up if this older generation is seen more regularly by oral health services."

The lead researcher of the study from the University of Auckland, Professor Ngaire Kerse, said the low percentages of elderly using the dentist was a worry.

She said there needed to be a focus right across the breadth of primary health care for improvements.

Another report, which was released today, from the data shows that elderly Māori are less likely than non-Māori to see a doctor, a pharmacist and an optometrist.

The study has also found that kaumātua are less satisfied with their visits to the GP.

Professor Kerse said it was important that all services give very good service to Māori.

"When you're satisfied and trust your practitioner or primary health care provider you're much more likely to engage with them and learn more about your health and have the good treatments that are available, working."

Professor Kerse said overall the primary health care system was doing well.

The data has been gathered for the Life and Living in Advanced Age: a Cohort Study in New Zealand-Te Puāwaitanga O Ngā Tapuwae Kia Ora Tonu.