By: Nicki Harper

Lumino Tamatea’s Lucy Vlnasova, left, and Dr Isha Woodhams took some volunteer shifts at the dental caravan in Wairoa this week. Photo/supplied

The success of a free mobile dental clinic in Wairoa has prompted local iwi to consider expanding the service to Hastings and Napier.

For four years, Ngati Pahauwera Development Trust has hosted the Lumino Mobile Clinic in Wairoa offering free dental care to residents.

The caravan clinic in the centre of town has been at capacity this week, said trust chairman Toro Waaka who booked himself in for a filling and clean on Monday.

“The demand is huge.

“Wairoa is a very low-income area. In particular, people like solo mothers, solo parents, they neglect their own dental health for their children.

“But there are also a lot of people, even on a working wage, who are making use of it.”

He said one man who attended the clinic while he was there had all his teeth pulled out because he could not afford the ongoing cost of dental care.

As well as easing the cost burden, however, the initiative was also about education, and the importance of regular maintenance, Mr Waaka said.

He said getting the scheme off the ground was aided by the iwi being lucky enough to have shares in Lumino The Dentists, which helped leverage the initiative.

The iwi’s connection with Mainfreight had also been fruitful, with the company transporting the mobile clinic from Auckland and back.

Last year the team of volunteer dentists, led by Tony Dey, performed about $45,000 worth of care.

Dr Dey said the demand was unprecedented this year, with the clinic quickly booked out for the week at the small East Coast town.

“We see stuff that we would call late presentation, problems that have been around a while that if dental care was more easily accessible, we may not have got to that point.”

Involved with the initiative since its inception, Dr Dey said it had been heartening to see the same people coming back, who may have presented with major problems the first time but were now needing mainly preventative treatment.

One of the big issues, however, was the prevalence and low cost of foods and beverages with high sugar content.

“You can go into a supermarket and get a pallet of fizzy drinks for 50c each where it costs $4 for a bottle of water.

“Councils, DHBs some schools have some great initiatives but there’s a massive amount of marketing that goes into these products that are easily and cheaply accessible at dairies and supermarkets.”

Fellow Lumino dentist Andrew Brown spent two days in Wairoa this week, with the treatment being primarily pain relief.

“It’s extraordinary when you do not have access to care, either financially or physically, how much pain people will live with – it’s quite humbling.”

Mr Waaka was keen to expand the service to Te Aranga Marae in Flaxmere along with other areas of Hastings and Napier, and was putting the call out for sponsors and volunteer dentists.

Hastings District councillor and Flaxmere community stalwart Henare O’Keefe said there was no doubt there was a need for such a service.

“There is a dentist for the kids but a lot of adults don’t go to because it’s too expensive – something like this would be appreciated and I think there is a good chance it will happen.”

Source: Hawke’s Bay Today

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