Government doesn't care about kids teeth | The Jackal

26 Jul 2017

Government doesn't care about kids teeth

With New Zealand having some of the worst oral health in the world, you would think that the government would be doing all in its power to improve things.

Unfortunately that doesn't appear to be the case, with children from lower socioeconomic areas who have less access to dental health services being disproportionately affected by rotten teeth.

Yesterday, Stuff reported:

More than 6600 Kiwi kids admitted to hospital with rotten teeth in one year

More than 6600 children under 12 wound up in hospital in the 2015-16 year to have one or more rotten teeth pulled under general anaesthetic.

After respiratory conditions, dental treatments were the second-biggest cause of hospital admissions that year, the latest for which figures are available. The rate was highest among under-10s.

The deteriorating state of our children's teeth is being called a slow-burning health epidemic, mainly caused by sugary drinks, and is costing the taxpayer tens of millions of dollars.

Terrible! So what's the National led government doing about it?

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said oral health was generally improving, with more children recorded as caries-free than ever before.

This is technically untrue. Based on the high numbers of 1-14 year olds having teeth removed due to decay, dental health for young people has stayed the same since 2011/12. There has been no statistically significant change.

"What we are seeing is not a health crisis, but more people being identified and getting treatment. While it is disappointing to see children with this level of decay and discomfort, it is pleasing to see that they are getting the help needed."

The Government's decision to shift responsibility for decisions on fluoridating water supplies to district health boards would also have a long-term positive effect on oral health, he said.

Dunne did not support a sugar tax, but said if clear evidence emerged showing a tax would make a "tangible" difference to the health of Kiwis, rather than being used as a "revenue-gathering exercise in disguise", he would be open to it.

Once again a government Minister is arguing against his own ministry.

The latest New Zealand Health Survey (DOC) shows that tooth decay and extractions remain very high for young people aged 14 and under, while for those aged 15 and above oral health has worsened since 2006/07. A whopping 55% now visit a dental health care worker only when they have a dental problem or never visit at all.

As for Peter Dunne’s assertion that there's no evidence, the Ministry of Health states:

There is increasing evidence that intake of free sugars leads to weight gain and tooth decay (WHO 2015). Sugary drinks, including fizzy drinks, are the main source of sugars in the diets of New Zealand children (Ministry of Health 2003). In addition, fizzy drinks contain acids that can dissolve tooth enamel, contributing to poor oral health (Ministry of Health 2015d).

The government has used tax as a way to reduce the use of cigarettes precisely because of the negative health effects they cause the general population. The cost on the health system was determined to be too excessive.

So why can’t the government use tax to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and thereby improve the oral health of New Zealanders?

If Dunne doesn’t support government intervention in one of New Zealand’s worst health crisis, then it’s time to vote the rotten bastard out.