New Zealand Dental Association spokesman Rob Beaglehole says tooth decay is a socio-economic issue.
A “vast tide” of Canterbury children need rotten teeth removed under general anaesthetic despite overall reductions in tooth decay.
Ministry of Health data shows the percentage of Kiwi 5 year olds found to have rotten teeth at community dental clinics decreased from 49 per cent in 2001 to 40 per cent in 2016.
The improvement was more stark in Canterbury, where it dropped from 50 to 34 per cent.
During the same period, children aged 0 to 14 years old requiring general anaesthetic for rotten teeth removal increased from 4500 to 7500 , according to ministry data.
Dental Association spokesman Rob Beaglehole? said oral health data reported to the ministry “masked” the high number of young children having up to 20 baby teeth extracted under sedation.
District health boards report on decay rates from community dental health checks at 5 and 8 years old. The number of children hospitalised for dental disease is recorded in hospital discharge information.
“It is good that overall the tooth decay rates are getting better, but there’s still a huge number of kids needing major operations done on their teeth,” Beaglehole said.
Tooth decay, caused by poor oral hygiene and high sugar diets, was an inequality issue as it disproportionately affected children from poorer households.
“The lower down the socio-economic rung you are, the more holes in your teeth you have.”
Population increase alone could not explain the dramatic rise in severe decay. It reflected societal changes, Beaglehole said.
“What that means is there’s more childhood poverty now than their was 15 years ago.”
Beaglehole said the New Zealand Dental Association wanted the new Government to take leadership on the issue.
It has asked the Government to consider introducing a sugary drinks tax, mandating sugar warning labels, banning sugary drinks from schools, restricting junk food marketing and ensuring the drinking water fluoridation amendment bill passed.
“A tax on sugary drinks … is the most effective way of reducing the population’s consumption of sugar.”
Canterbury District Health Board community health service director Martin Lee said there was a “vast tide of kids needing specialist dental treatment including sedation”, despite the improvement in decay rates.
Many parents did not understand the importance of brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride to prevent decay, he said.
Toothpaste manufacturers promoting low-fluoride toothpaste for children did not help the misunderstanding about fluoride’s role.
Understanding the difference between a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and a smear was important.
“A smear with one of these low fluoride toothpastes – you may as well not bother there’s so little fluoride.”
Tooth decay was preventable, but required parents’ commitment and understanding, Lee said.