A new report has revealed a significant number of Kiwis end up in hospital with dental issues because they can't afford to see a dentist.
The report lead by Dr Moira Smith from the University of Otago's department of public health, looked at four DHBs in different locations to find out what dental issues were occurring there.
“We interviewed the emergency departments doctors and nurses and they reported to us that people were presenting quite late on with dental abscesses,” Smith told Breakfast.
She said some of the stories they heard from doctors across the DHB was grim.
“Some were trying to extract their teeth themselves [because they couldn’t afford to go to the dentist] – it’s quite a difficult and tragic situation.”
The report identified that while the dental health of those presenting in EDs – mostly people between 20 and 39 and usually of Māori or Pasifika decent - was a concern, there was also a concern for the EDs themselves.
The report found EDs have difficulty “managing” a majority of the dental situations that present to them as they do not have the appropriate staff, facilities or capacity, resulting in patients receiving symptomatic treatment such as antibiotic treatment and pain relief rather than specialised care which addresses the issues.
“It’s about the only medical condition for which there is no referral-based pathway from ED into medical care,” Smith said.
“Imagine turning up to ED with a broken leg and being given pain relief before being told to go and find an orthopedic surgeon yourself and get it repaired yourself – that’s effectively what’s happening with people’s dental issues.”
Smith said adding to the situation was that there are many who are working but do not qualify for a community services card and therefore do not qualify for a benefit or a subsidy.
“It is expensive but if you were to turn it around and say go the the GP and pay the full cost of your GP visit, it would be expensive,” she said.
“But because it’s subsidised it appears to be cheaper and it is cheaper.”
Smith said addressing that disparity is the required step forward to get dental care out of EDs and back with dentists or the situation will get worse.
“The current Government campaigned on raising the special needs grant from $300 to $1000 so that is one thing that would help to solve the immediate problem,” she said.
“But there has to be more longer term solutions – subsidies for young adults, community services and making the living wage the minimum so people can afford things like dental treatment.”