Auckland DHB apologises to families stuck on urgent dental treatment waiting list

Auckland DHB is apologising to whānau affected by delays for hospital and specialist dental treatment.

Figures reveal a backlog of nearly 2000 children, despite hopes to have cleared the waiting list by June.

Dr Mike Shepherd, interim director of provider services for Auckland DHB, said: "We're committed to doing better and apologise to affected whānau and tamariki."

The DHB provides the region's hospital specialist dentistry service (HSD) and said there had been an ongoing high level of demand following the COVID-19 lockdowns but that it's working to reduce wait times.

"We have employed additional dental clinicians and are sourcing additional operating room capacity across Auckland," said Dr Shepherd.

Dental Association president Katie Ayers has been a paediatric dentist for more than 20 years and says it's the worst she's ever seen.

"I've never seen children waiting so long for operations, or to be treated. You know, to have over half of the children in Auckland overdue for their dental check-ups is just frightening."

Dr Ayers says some children can be waiting for more than a year for treatment, and not just in Auckland.

"From my experience, it's a similar situation in most DHBs in the country. Of course, Auckland was worse off because they had the four lockdowns which really slowed the process up, but of course Waikato with the computer issue has been struggling also," said Dr Ayers.

The metro Auckland DHBs are collectively allocating $1.97 million of funding to address the waiting times.

"It will take some time for these measures to have an impact but we're dedicated to reducing the waitlist for children needing hospital-level dental care by late 2021," said Dr Shepherd.

Figures also revealed 75 percent of Pasifika children under five had tooth decay.

Cynthia Wallbridge, dental hygienist at Rockfield Dental Centre and director of Family Teeth Matters, says it's easily avoidable.

"Tooth decay is totally preventable. The main thing is, cut down the sugars, the second thing is, brush your teeth twice a day and use a fluoridated toothpaste and thirdly, use the fluoridated water in your tap instead of fizz."