A mobile dental unit has made a dramatic improvement in Wairoa’s oral health since it first brought smiles to faces in the town five years ago.
Ngāti Pāhauwera Development Trust and Lumino The Dentists offer free dental care to dozens of Wairoa residents in January each year.
About 100 people were seen by the end of this year’s service, which ran from January 14 to 25.
Lead dentist Dr Tony Dey said the volunteer team, made up of 10 people including dentists, assistants and hygienists from around the North Island, performs about $50,000 worth of work a year.
The initiative has been so successful that patients who had previously come with mouths full of rotten and infected teeth visited the unit just for a clean this year.
“We’re seeing people coming back and we can see there is improvement in their oral health.”
This is partly because the major work has already been completed but also because they have been taught by the hygienists how to care for their mouths properly.
Wairoa, like many lower socioeconomic areas, has a high proportion of residents with poor oral health, he said.
“The problems are related to the difficulties accessing regular, affordable dental care combined with the easy access to high sugar food and drink that is usually promoted by clever marketing.”
The team still sees new patients who need a lot of work, but hopes this will continue to improve each year.
For Dr Dey the experience is tough because he misses out on spending time with his young family for nearly two weeks a year, but it is always worth it to see the difference he makes in patients’ lives.
“It’s great to be doing this, the people are so grateful.
“It is very rewarding seeing people coming back to have that routine care, they went through all that work and now they have healthier mouths and know how to look after them.”
One man, in his 20s, came back this year for a clean after seeing three different dentists for a number of extractions and fillings in previous years.
“This year he came in and he was so proud, all that work had been done.”
Ngāti Pāhauwera Development Trust Wairoa manager Marie Moses said the iwi and community really appreciates the work done by the dental team.
“We’ve only got one dentist here in Wairoa and the price is phenomenal, people can’t afford it.
“We are really thankful that we are able to provide a service like this to the community.”
One year a couple drove 45 minutes from Mahia for treatment and called back as soon as they got home to say how happy they were with the service, she said.
“It’s great seeing people who haven’t been to the dentist for years come in and they are so excited.”
The iwi provides the team’s meals and accommodation for the duration of the service.
The dental unit is used by schools in Auckland and is available to be brought to Wairoa during the summer holidays, ensuring a future of healthy smiles.
Banner image: Dental assistants Tina Grey and Fleur McHugh and lead dentist Dr Tony Dey with a patient. Photo/Supplied