The New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA) is saying the Ministry of Health has met with other medical groups via the General Practice Leaders’ Forum but say they feel shut out, citing a lack of government funding for oral health translating to a lack of interest from the government.

Dentists have essentially been closed down since New Zealand went to Alert Level 3 over a month ago.

In terms of effective PPE delivery, clear guidance from officials and any form of national plan the NZDA Chief Executive Dr David Crum says dentistry, has been largely ignored. As a primary, frontline health care service, dentists and their patients when compared to medicine have effectively been relegated to the status of the ‘poor cousin’.

“Oral health is an important part of general health and as such all New Zealanders have a right to access good oral health care. Doctors and pharmacists are still able to work and receive at least some form of income, albeit at a reduced capacity. Dentists are not. Why is this? One hypothesis is, that because there is currently almost no government funding for adult dental care in New Zealand, dentists believe they have been left off the radar during this COVID19 crisis.”

Dr Crum says expenditure on dentistry in New Zealand is largely privately funded, with only small pockets of public spending out of NZ$1.5 billion spent each year.

“Last year the New Zealand government spent over $18 billion on health care, $3,745 for every man woman and child in New Zealand. But less than one half of one percent was spent by the Government on oral health,” he said.

In obeying the new Ministry of Health guidelines – even at level 3 with virtually no PPE being made available by DHBs to dentists, dentists are now being forced to access the very scarce supply from overseas. This costs approximately $80 per patient, even before treatment starts.

“The reality is that if you are an adult New Zealander, you will be expected to pay for your own dental care and the PPE to provide this safely with limited exceptions.

Dental practices in New Zealand are a mix of privately-owned enterprises and corporate companies. Servicing these practices is a significant dental industry of around 30 companies that supply equipment, maintenance, consumables, materials, educational courses, IT and software to the medical and dental profession.”

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