The Government has sat on a report outlining ways to improve access to adult dental care for almost two years without taking any action.
The Ministry of Health report, titled 'Adult Dental Care and Oral Health Issues', was sent to then-Minister of Health David Clark in December 2018 after he requested a briefing on the issue.
The Ministry has repeatedly refused to release the report; Newshub obtained a copy after going to the Ombudsman to fight for its release.
The report outlines the dire situation many New Zealanders face when it comes to dental care.
"Poor oral health is largely preventable, yet it is also one of the more common chronic health problems experienced by New Zealanders of all ages," the report states.
"A sizeable proportion of the adult population does not access oral health care due to cost. These adults are more likely to be Maori, Pacific, or from deprived areas."
The report proposes several ways to improve access to dental care:
- Extending funded dental care past the age of 18, as it is currently, up to the age of 26;
- Offering a "one-off course of basic dental care" to pregnant women living in poverty, and low-income parents and caregivers of children under five-years-old;
- Increasing the WINZ dental grant from $300 to $500;
- Giving people aged 65+ either a free one-off or annual dental checkup;
- Extending water fluoridation, which in 2018 only reached about 54 percent of New Zealanders.
After receiving the report, the then-Minister of Health, David Clark, was asked if he wanted the Ministry to "undertake further work on developing options for improving access and affordability of adult oral health care".
The current Minister, Chris Hipkins, refused to be interviewed, but he confirmed to Newshub that Clark did not follow up the report.
"No specific work [was] commissioned in response to that report," Hipkins said.
That's despite Clark saying in August 2018 that he "would like to see more investment in adult dental care".
"Over time we do want to do more in this area, but there is a lot of competition for every health dollar," Hipkins said.
The Ministry of Health redacted the costs of each proposal in the report, but it estimated that adults spend about $1 billion every year on private dental care.
The Government spends about $100 million a year on adult dental care through District Health Boards, WINZ grants, and ACC dental accidents.