Ship docked in Tauranga providing free dental care to those in need 'overwhelmed' by demand

Access to dental care in New Zealand can be expensive and difficult to access, but a ship in Tauranga is trying to change that.

The Youth With a Mission (YWAM) Ship was destined for Fiji to provide free dental care in the Pacific, but the island's recent explosion of COVID-19 cases meant the ship had to stay put. Now, it's taken up residence in the Bay of Plenty.

It offers free dental care to those who need it - and in New Zealand, there's plenty of people in need. 

Volunteer dental professionals aboard the ship say they've seen a huge gap in the community with people of all ages needing urgent dental care.

Some had abscesses, others were in so much pain they had tried to remove their own teeth.

YWAM Ships Aotearoa's managing director Marty Emmett told The Project the demand has been shocking.

"You can read reports and statistics but when they become faces and names it's a whole different ball game - it's been overwhelming."

He says over the past week the ship has performed more than $24,500 worth of dental work on 64 patients, all completely free of charge. 

One of the patients that stood out was a child who had been waiting for more than six months to get help for his debilitating dental pain. 

"One of his baby teeth had died and rotted and gone septic, so when they pulled that out he was instantly relieved of his pain," Dr Emmett said. 

He says although there's been an outpouring of financial support from the Tauranga community, what the ship really needs is more dentists to volunteer their time. 

As for whether the Government should be subsiding dental care, Dr Emmett says that's above his paygrade - but it's clear the current system isn't working. 

"What I'm seeing is something needs to change. If you talk to the people, we're seeing it's not working."

Watch the full interview above.