Politics | Dental

Māori providers get a hand to brush up tooth care under Greens’ free dental care election policy

Māori providers get a hand to brush up tooth care under Greens’ free dental care election policy

In their latest election policy release, the Greens say they will increase funding for Māori health providers to improve oral health as part of their plan to provide free dental care for all.

They say the average cost of going to the dentist is near $350, and more than 50 per cent of Māori say they can’t afford treatment.

The Greens are promising free dental care for all New Zealanders.

“We know this will make a difference to the stress in people’s lives, whether or not it’s from toothache,” Greens co-leader Marama Davidson says. “Most people skip the dentist because it’s just so expensive and that’s why we want to make it free for everyone.”

The policy would be paid for by a tax on wealth and would include mobile and community dental clinics, with some on marae. It would cover free dental care such as fillings, sealants and tooth removals.

Cost – and no capacity

But Prime Minister Chris Hipkins doesn’t support the policy or how the Greens would fund it.

“It’s not just a question of how much free dental care might cost. It’s also having the capacity to be able to deliver that, which I think the system wouldn’t have the capacity to deliver at the moment, and there would likely be significant investment required.”

“So, I think the proposal we’ve seen from the Greens is somewhat simplistic,” Hipkins said.

Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verral says New Zealand is “not at the level required to achieve universal dental, no.”

Dental For All spokesperson Brooke Pao Stanley says the majority of the people they have surveyed would support dental as a priority in the health system.

Kiwis support free dental care

“More than 70% of people think it should be brought into the healthcare system and that includes across different voters for different political parties. When we put out a petition for dental for all, we got over 10,000 signatures within a few days and so we’re hoping that it elevates the conversation around dental care in Aotearoa,” Stanley said.

The Greens would pay for it with a ‘fairer’ tax system.

But the government wants to continue just handing out emergency dental grants.

Verrall says, “I think that’s an important aspiration, and I’m pleased with the progress we’ve been able to make with increasing the access to emergency dental grants.”

Davidson says over time, it’s about pulling dental and oral health care into the public health system. “And that’s why we know it should be free for everyone.”

A new report shows that 40 percent of adults in Aotearoa actively avoid dental treatment due to the cost. And for Māori and Pasifika the figure is more than 50 per cent.

Davidson says over time the Greens would build up the dentistry workforce, including Māori and Pasifika “who at the moment represent less than 3% of the current workforce”.

The Green Party claims adult dental care in New Zealand is now among the most expensive in the world.