NZ Election 2020: National and Labour fall short on adult dental care

If elected, the National Party will give every child in New Zealand a toothbrush and toothpaste and teach them how to brush properly, part of a $30 million boost on top of the $100 million the Government already spends on youth dental services.

Both major political parties had indicated they would do more to help solve New Zealand's adult dental crisis, but post-COVID-19, Labour and National are saying there simply isn't the cash to tackle that problem.

The MySmile policy extends existing programmes of free dental care, toothbrushes and supervised brushing to all children.

"This is a really sensible way of dealing with - excuse the pun - the root of the issue," National Party leader Judith Collins said on Tuesday. 

Dental surgeon Dr Assil Russell is concerned it won't be enough.

"Even the child dental healthcare system at the moment is broken. I am not sure how far $30 million is going to go," she told Newshub.

Dr Russell has fought hard to have the age of free dental raised and have it subsidised for at-risk adults.

"That is a major problem, that there is nothing or no plans or policy announcements for adult dental care," she said.

Collins, when asked if she considered free or subsidised dental care for adults, said it was too expensive.

"We simply couldn't afford it, and I think that you can find that with other parties as well," she said.

That's despite both major parties hinting they would do more for adults.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at Waitangi this year, "Dental care is expensive, it's prohibitive... There is more work to do but I hear that call."

National's health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti had promised a "pleasant surprise" when the topic of dental care funding was discussed on Newshub Nation over the weekend.

But post-COVID-19, dental has hit the backburner.

"We have had to prioritise," Labour leader Ardern said on Tuesday.

Newshub asked Dr Reti if both major political parties are ignoring adult dental care.

"We\'re starting with children, and we'll continue to look further afield," he said. 

Despite both major parties falling short on their indicated dental promises, Parliament's smallest party ACT says it's outright overreach.

"We really do have a nanny state in offing," said leader David Seymour.

"With Jacinda Ardern promising school lunches and Judith Collins offering toothbrushes and toothpaste, there'll be little left for parents to do.

"National is also suggesting the Government should offer daily supervised tooth-brushing for pre-schoolers. It's nuts. ACT believes that it's the job of parents look after their kids, not politicians."