The Green Party has a major dental policy announcement on Sunday. Photo / 123rf
The Green Party wants to increase the number of portable dental clinics four-fold to have them reach all corners of the country and free care expanded to include adults – not only those aged under 18 as present.
The policy is part of a wider package the party will unveil on Sunday, which the Herald understands would massively expand access and overcome barriers to oral healthcare.
Health spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said an estimated 40 per cent of adults cannot afford dental care, while for Māori and Pasifika the figure is more than 50 per cent.
A recent poll shows less than half of New Zealanders have been to the dentist in the past year.
For many, particularly in rural areas, there are also access barriers.
“We know many, especially in remote areas, struggle to get basic care. So beyond the cost barrier is the fact not everybody lives near a dental clinic.”
The Herald has previously reported on the high costs of dental care and how desperate Kiwis had been resorting to their own “DIY dentistry” in extreme circumstances, including using power drills.
The Government has recently raised the grant cap for free dental treatment from $300 to $1000 for people on low incomes and benefits, leading to a flood of dental care.
Since the cap was raised in December, the Government has paid out $30 million in dental fees – five times the amount paid over the same period in 2022 before the cap was raised.
March said this was a good move but had not gone far enough, and access issues remained for many.
March said they would provide mobile dental vans and portable clinics across the country so no one had to travel long distances to look after their teeth.
There are currently about 98 vans and buses focused on children’s services.
March said they would provide enough funding for an extra 300 units. These cost between $300,000 and $500,000 per unit, so the package would cost $150 million over four years.
This would ensure people had access to mobile vans and portable clinics in every region, March said.
People could access these for free – currently, free dental care is only available to those aged under 18. Services would be mostly focused on prevention, including consultations, check-ups and cleanings.
The buses would be equipped for more extensive work.
March said the goal was to cover the country and the focus would be on more remote areas.
The Green Party will unveil its full dental policy package on Sunday morning, which will also address the workforce needed to support expanding dental care.