Pop-up dental clinic set up to help Kaikohe residents 'pulling their own teeth out' leaves with 1300 locals on waiting list

Northland residents are pulling out their own teeth with pliers because they can't afford to go to the dentist.

One person in the region is also admitted to intensive care every fortnight due to poor oral health.

Auckland company SmileCare set up a free pop-up clinic in Kaikohe that relieved hundreds of their suffering, but it's just gone into receivership.

For local Libby Hita, it's devastating news because, like hundreds in the town, her teeth are causing her excruciating pain.

"I have done it [pulled out my own teeth]," she told The Hui. "About four times".

Kaikohe hasn't had a dentist for 18 months.

Over the five weeks, SmileCare operated a free mobile clinic in Kaikohe - its dentists helped 700 people. But it is leaving town, despite having 1300 people on the waiting list.

Clinic manager Doug Healy said for people in Kaikohe, getting teeth pulled is their dental care.

"Within the first couple of days, the dentists were saying it's like a bomb site. There was so many broken teeth. It wasn't funny. And that was done by people pulling their own teeth out with pliers, screwdrivers," he said.

"The reality is [people say] that 'it's time to get my teeth pulled, that's when I go to the dentist' and that's a sad fact, that shouldn't be the time you go to a dentist."

While the Northland District Health Board recently opened a clinic for emergency care, it was only for community card owners.

Another local, father of five Piripi Rakena, said he was living with tooth pain he described as a nine out of 10.

"A couple of times I sat at the dinner table maybe 1, 2 o'clock in the morning and trying to use the pliers and a cloth to pull it out. Yep, that's how bad the pain gets."

SmileCare had hoped to return and open a permanent koha clinic, but that's now on hold after the company went into receivership just this week.

Healy said he's "pretty devastated" at the closure.

"Those 150 people have been waiting 18 months for care and the team are tired, we need to go home."

SmileCare receivers PriceWaterhouseCoopers say all SmileCare dental clinics are operating as normal and there are no changes to staff numbers.