New Zealand has reached a turning point for oral health. Several decades of dramatic improvements in the oral health of young people have begun to reverse. Inequalities in oral health and in access to oral health services have become increasingly evident, with Māori, Pacific, rural and low socioeconomic populations all showing progressively poorer oral health relative to other groups.
Recent reviews of the School Dental Service showed that services are often hampered by ageing equipment and buildings, and models of service delivery that are no longer meeting communities’ needs. Secondary services are under pressure from larger case loads of patients requiring more complex treatment. Barriers to oral health facing older adults, who are increasingly keeping their own teeth, are also presenting a challenge at the other end of the age spectrum.
The future can be very different. The Ministry of Health has a vision:
Good oral health for all, for life.
The vision is for an environment that promotes oral health, whether through fluoridated water, a healthy diet, or publicly funded services staffed by a multidisciplinary workforce that actively addresses the needs of those at greatest risk of poor oral health. In this future, oral health is recognised as an important part of general good health. Links between oral health services and other health care ensure that oral health is promoted, improved, maintained and, where necessary, restored at the earliest opportunity.
Good oral health for all, for life, starts with promoting oral health for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. Ensuring that oral health services are accessible and responsive to the needs of children and their families and whānau is the first step in accomplishing that objective.
For this reason, the Government will be investing in a strengthened, community-based oral health service for young people. The new Community Oral Health Service will make oral health a more visible and integrated part of primary health care. Community dental services will be delivered by a range of providers, including District Health Boards, Māori and Pacific providers, primary health organisations and private dentists, and will draw on the skills of a wide range of health professionals.
To reinforce the Government’s commitment to improving oral health services, the Ministry of Health has developed this strategic vision document. The document introduces readers to the new vision for oral health, and to the immediate steps needed to achieve this. It is intended to excite and inspire funders and planners, providers and communities as to the possibilities for improving oral health. It is also intended to spark debate.
This document is a beginning. Clive Wright, keynote speaker at the Oral Health Forum 2000, noted: ‘if we do not have a vision of where we want to be, we have no idea of how to get there’. This document launches the vision. I look forward to your participation in this exciting period for oral health.
Hon Pete Hodgson
Minister of Health