National | Dental

'Tooth fairy' trial continues, despite overloaded courts

Three years after she made dentures for hundreds of Northlanders in need, the ministry is still chasing Tai Tokerau's 'tooth fairy'; the judge wants them to stop.

Northland's "tooth fairy" is still waiting for a court hearing three years after the Ministry of Health first alleged she made hundreds of dentures without certification.

Claire Wihongi-Matene, 43, dubbed the "tooth fairy" by local supporters, faces seven charges brought by the Ministry in April 2019 – one alleging she claimed to be a health practitioner; six for allegedly performing a restricted activity.

The charges are laid under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 and were sparked by complaints from dentists.

The Health Ministry claims Wihongi-Matene performed a "restricted activity" involved in the insertion and maintenance of dentures on members of the public "when she was not a health practitioner permitted to perform the activity".

She is understood to have made and repaired dentures from her home on Mangakahia Rd, south of Kaikohe.

Appearing briefly in Kaikohe District Court yesterday, Wihongi-Matene maintained her previous not guilty pleas.

The court was told the judge-alone trial she has elected would involve 15 Crown witnesses and five defence witnesses, for which a five-day fixture would be needed.

But there is currently no court time available to allocate for a fixture of that length so the case had to be further adjourned for another call on August 23, when it was hoped there might be.

Judge Brandt Shortland noted the age of the charges and said he hoped the parties might perhaps reach a resolution ahead of a hearing.

The case has been widely reported in national media with many sources saying it highlights a dire shortage of health care providers in Northland and the cost of dentistry in general.

Northland's backlog of trials, brought about by Covid lockdowns and restrictions of the past two years, is the most pressing issue for the local judiciary, the region's recently-retired Executive Judge John McDonald previously told Open Justice.

Judge-alone and jury trials are currently being scheduled as far out as 2024.