Source: nzherald.co.nz, 7 May 2018
A 4-year-old girl who had all
of her rotting baby teeth removed is one tens of thousands of Kiwi
kids with poor dental health, a new report has found.
Dental caries, or tooth decay,
was found to be most common chronic disease in children, and one of
the leading causes of hospital admissions.
In the 2015/2016 year, 29,000
children under the age of 12 had to have one or more teeth removed
as a result of severe cavities and infection, and 6600 of those
ended up in hospital. Each operation to remove teeth cost about
"The cost of this in public
healthcare and to taxpayers is huge," oral health researcher and
co-author Prathibha Sural said.
The report, Too soon for the tooth fairy: the implications of
child poverty for oral health, summarises knowledge about the
prevalence of poor oral health among children in New Zealand.
Most of the cases were argued
to be preventable and strongly associated with poverty.
Co-author and public health
specialist Dr Rob Beaglehole said tooth decay was a "disease of
"Poorer members of society
have significantly worse oral health than the wealthy."
Poor oral health had a
knock-on effect to other areas of life.
problems, as well as social issues for children can occur as a
result. They may require expensive orthodontic work on adult teeth,
and their confidence suffers.
"Education so that families
are more aware of proper nutrition and care for their children's
teeth from before they erupt is imperative, but families must be
resourced with the kind of incomes they need to sustain healthy
lifestyles if any long-term change is to be seen."
CPAG health spokesman
Professor Toni Ashton said despite oral health being a stated
priority of governments over the past two decades, dental problems
among New Zealand children, especially in low-income families,
remained stubbornly high.
"Mere lip service has been
paid to this problem for far too long. It is time for action."
The report suggests
significantly boosting family incomes, a comprehensive,
parent-targeted education programme, broader provision of fluoride
in water, reducing the sugar content in food, and the
implementation of a health levy on sugary drinks.
The University of Otago's Dr
Jonathan Broadbent said child poverty and its detrimental impact on
dental health care cast "a long shadow and affects oral health into
A University of Otago's
Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which
tracked the lives of more than 1000 babies born in Dunedin between
April 1972 and March 1973, showed up to 18 years of age, more
dental decay occurred among children from socio-economically
While those who needed dental
care mostly got it due to New Zealand's universal dental health
care for children and adolescents, this changed once access to
state-funded dental care ended at age 18.
By the time they were 26, the
average number of teeth with untreated decay among young people
from socio-economically disadvantaged families was five times
greater than it had been at age 18.
"Publicly funded dental care
minimises inequality up to age 18, but then the bottom drops out,"
Dr Broadbent said.
By age 38, the average number
of teeth lost was six times greater among those who had been born
into disadvantaged families than for those born into well-off
Socio-economic differences in
tooth decay rates didn't explain socio-economic inequality in
dental health alone, because well-off people who ate too much sugar
and had poor oral hygiene had a high rate of tooth decay too, Dr
"But, if you have a high rate
of decay as a child and are born into a family with low-income
parents, this will affect your risk of having poor dental health
right through your life, not just during childhood."
Another study found
socio-economically disadvantaged parents were less likely to
understand the dental problems caused by sugary foods or how to
effectively care for teeth.
Their beliefs rubbed off on
their children who were more likely to hold similar unfavourable
beliefs through their teens and into their 20s.
They were less likely to
regularly brush their teeth or go for regular dental checks.
Dr Broadbent suggested public
health interventions targeted to reduce inequalities, like a sugary
drink tax, and expanded publicly funded dental care, including
preventive care for adults.