By: Emma Russell

Whanganui takes a new approach to looking after children’s teeth. Photo/File

Whanganui is leading the way with a study that aims to revolutionise the way decay in children’s teeth is combated.

The region has been chosen to be the first place in New Zealand for the trial into a new method of dental care.

About 350 local children, aged 3 to 8, are taking part in the three-year study run by University of Otago associate professor Lyndie Foster Page – and already the results are proving promising.

Dr Foster Page said she hoped to prove the new treatment – known as the Hall Technique – was better and would reduce the need for anaesthetic for young children.

“The kids in Whanganui haven’t got great teeth … oral health equality in New Zealand is a problem and we know Whanganui has a greater burden of the disease,” she said.

In the Whanganui region, 43.1 per cent of five-year-olds have dental caries (tooth decay) compared with 37 per cent in Taranaki.

Dr Foster Page’s research also showed Whanganui had an inequality in dental health between Maori (87 per cent with caries) and non-Maori (68.2 per cent with caries).

“We thinking the Hall Technique, along with other approaches that are happening in the community, is working,” she told the Chronicle.

The first-year results had shown the number of three- to five-year-olds needing anaesthetic had reduced.

Half the children in the study are using the traditional method to remove decay – drilling and replacing with a filling – while the other half are using the Hall Technique.

“Children using the Hall Technique receive a little cap on their tooth and we don’t remove any decay; we don’t use a drill and we don’t give any anaesthetic.”

The technique was developed in Scotland by Dr Norna Hall in 1991. She used the treatment on her patients for 15 years until she retired and it has since been picked up on an international scale.

Dr Foster Page said it was a novel approach because the decay was left behind.

“Some clinicians think it’s wrong because it’s leaving bugs behind, so what we are looking for is sound results that this treatment works and is good for our children.”

Dr Foster Page said some district health boards in New Zealand were already using the treatment but were relying on international studies.

“A DHB can implement any type of clinical care as they see fit. We would say ideally when you are bringing in a new type of treatment it is good to have sound evidence based in New Zealand.”

There have been mixed responses from parents in Whanganui.

“Some don’t want their child having a metal thing in their mouth but others are happy to have it because the child wants it and they don’t want to keep coming back to have fillings redone.”

Dr Foster Page said the crown would cost $10 and a filling costs about $1 or $2 but the crown would prevent the need for filling replacements.

“That cost is government-funded. The DHBs look after oral health and they choose how they use that money.

“Some health boards aren’t using crowns because they think they are too expensive but Whanganui is very forward-thinking.”

Dr Foster Page said one of the health board’s guidelines said all children under 5 should have an X-ray to check for holes but traditionally dentists have not able to do this.

“So one of the benefits in this study has been to train dental therapists how to do this because all the children involved in the study had to have an X-ray.

“They came back to us after a year and said, ‘We never thought we could do this but we can now take X-rays on these young children well and it’s helping us be more preventive’.”

The two-year results will be released in December and it will be revealed through the data gathered which treatment has proven more effective.

“This study is allowing us to have data we can present to the whole of New Zealand.
“If we have data saying it has better clinical outcomes, then we can take that to the Minister of Health and say ‘recommend all health boards use this to better manage dental care’.”

The study is being funded by charity Cure Kids and this month is the foundation’s Red Nose Day appeal.

Cure Kids aims to raise $1 million for child health research into finding cures and better treatment for a wide range of conditions, one of which is dental decay.

“The study could not have been possible without the funding from Cure Kids. They saw the benefits of our study and the importance of how oral health impacts young children,” Dr Foster Page said.

Source: NZ Herald


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