Dental Tribune Asia Pacific

New Zealand government faces growing criticism over limited access to dental care

DUNEDIN, New Zealand: The University of Otago in New Zealand has recently reopened its multimillion-dollar dental school, the only one in the country. The announcement of its reopening coincided with a petition signed by thousands of people calling for more affordable dental care.

Considered one of the world’s most modern dental schools, the university’s dentistry building is once again open to the public in Dunedin after a NZ$130 million (€115 million) rebuild. “I think today New Zealand’s opening the most up-to-date, state-of-the-art dentistry school in the world, and almost certainly the largest in the southern hemisphere,” said Prof. Paul Brunton, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Division of Health Sciences at the university. The facility features 214 dental chairs, an operating theatre and new digital technology, including intra-oral dental cameras.

Patients at the school currently receive dental care from its students at a reduced price, and an estimated 76,000 procedures are performed yearly. Prof. John Broughton, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, said people of Dunedin are very fortunate that this centre of dental education has been established in their city.

However, more than 10,000 people have signed a petition, which was delivered to parliament just a few days ago, calling for free dental care up to the age of 20, as well as for subsidised visits for communities that need them most. The petition was launched by Hamilton dentist Dr Assil Russell. “This is basically to get the Minister of Health to consider her [Russell’s] submission and the over 10,000 people that she’s got to sign the petition,” said National MP David Bennett.

“There’s such a strong link between a healthy mouth and a healthy body,” said Prof. Karl Lyons, Head of the Department of Oral Rehabilitation at the university. “And the easier it is for us in the community to be able to access dental care without the barrier of cost, the better.”

Pointing out the need for discussion between the dental industry and the government, Broughton said, “What has to happen is there has to be a big conversation between the dental health sector and Her Majesty’s Government over development of affordable and accessible services to the wider New Zealand public.”

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DT Asia Pacific No. 6, 2019

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