Dental pain isn’t just a health issue for young Eastern Bay students, says one high school principal, it affects their education and their futures. Addressing that issue is just one of the motivating factors behind some innovative dental health schemes launched at schools across the region. The work is yielding impressive results.
Murupara Area School Principal Angela Sharples, where one of the schemes is underway, said dental pain had become a major obstacle for her students.
“Dental pain was identified as a significant barrier to learning for students at Murupara Area School,” said Angela. “Not only is it frequently given as a reason for absence from school but children in pain struggle to concentrate in class and to learn.
“There are also significant barriers for accessing dental services for teens in Murupara. Not only is the nearest dentist 45 minutes’ drive away in Rotorua but many families do not have access to a vehicle or the ability to cover the petrol costs for visits to town for dental care.
“As a consequence, dental care was not happening for many of our tauira and ongoing dental pain was normal for many of our youth. The school has worked closely with the Bay of Plenty District Health Board (BOPDHB) to address these issues with access to dental care and address the disparity in health outcomes for our youth.”
The results have been dramatic. In 2017, just four students from Year 9-13 at Murupara Area School were being seen by a dentist, out of a total of 109 students. In 2020, three years later, that number had hit 100.
“Working alongside Absolute Dental, almost 100% of Year 9-13 students from Murupara Area School were seen this year,” said BOPDHB Community Health 4Kids Health Promotion Officer Teneille Ogilvy.
A number of factors frequently work against young people living in rural Eastern Bay communities regarding dental care. These can range from a lack of fluoridation of the local water supply, to geographic isolation, and poverty.
A number of initiatives have been developed to tackle these issues, including deploying mobile dental units at schools for extended periods of time; normally five weeks. This type of scheme has been launched at both Murupara Area School and, most recently, at Tarawera High School.
It was also the approach first taken at Opotiki College where, at the end of 2019, Te Manu Tora Dental Mobile Unit was onsite seeing all under 18s as well as a short, extended service seeing those up to 19. Following on from this, the BOPDHB worked alongside East Bay Dental Whakatane offering dental services, including transporting Opotiki College students suffering dental pain to Whakatane for treatment.
Further to this, the BOPDHB has coordinated and transported students requiring dental care from Te Kura Mana Maori o Whangaparaoa (Cape Runaway) to East Bay Dental Whakatane.
“It’s all about partnership,” said Teneille. “So that’s partnership with the schools, dental practices, whanau, iwi and the local community in general. Everyone has to be on the same page for these types of initiatives to work and we’ve been really fortunate in that regard. Everyone recognises the importance of this work.
“Our intentions are to provide accessible dental care to students,” added Teneille. “It is hoped that with the ease of these services for them that rates for students seeing their local dentists will dramatically improve.”
BOPDHB Community Health 4 Kids Regional Manager Martin Steinmann said the key focus for him was equity.
“It’s about delivering services closer to home and the BOPDHB working in partnership with schools, private practice dentists, the community, other government agencies and other providers to lessen or remove barriers that prevent access to free health services,” said Martin. “It is all heavily based on goodwill, whanaungatanga, kotahitanga and manaakitanga. This is a perfect example of the BOPDHB CARE (Compassion, All-one-team, Responsive, Excellence) values being applied in the community healthcare setting.”