New Zealanders Jenni Graham with daughter Mikayla who already has three fillings and is only 5 years old
The dental health of young children continues to be among the worst in the developed world, figures reveal.This is interesting in the respect that dentistry for children up to age 18 is funded by the government.
Forty-four per cent of 5-year-olds have at least one decayed, missing or filled tooth, a school dental services report has found.
The Government has spent $417 million on the problem since 2007 but the figures have shown little improvement.
In 2000, 48 per cent of 5-year-olds had cavities, and the figure has not dropped below 43 per cent since.
New Zealand rates are worse than the UK, US and Australia.
Auckland paediatric dentist Clarence Tam said it wasn't unusual to see children as young as 2 or 3 with huge holes in several teeth.
"It definitely seems to be on the rise for 5-year-olds and younger children. Cavities start to rip through their teeth like wildfire," he said.
But, culture, parental involvement in prioritizing their children's health and diet are seemingly driving poor dental health in New Zealand.
Free dental care is available for children up to 18. Most public primary schools have a dental clinic and many regions operate mobile clinics.So, how does New Zealand compare to the United States and other Commonwealth nations?
Despite campaigns to improve access and enrolment, a number of factors led to poor oral hygiene, the ministry said.
Many parents didn't see oral health as a priority and only took their children to a dentist in an emergency, said New Zealand Dental Association spokeswoman Deepa Krishnan.
Tam agreed and said diet was also to blame, with people choosing unhealthy snacks that allowed acid to attack teeth.
"I've seen a baby bottle filled with Coca-Cola. People choose to eat cakes or potato chips as opposed to a slice of cheese, nuts or carrot sticks."
Parents needed to set a good example and get children to brush their teeth at least twice a day and floss, said Tam.
In the US, 28 per cent of children aged between 2 and 5 had one or more decayed, missing or filled teeth in 2004.
In 2005, the figure for 5-year-olds in England was 39 per cent and in Australia 43 per cent.
Government supported dental care obviously is not helping New Zealand's dental health. Obviously, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on dental clinics and community oral health services have been to no avail.
What is needed is better education on diet and a program that makes parents responsible stakeholders in their children's health - like maybe paying for it themselves?
Having free access to care simply is not the way to go.