NZ Election 2020: National promises $30 million boost to childhood dental services, but nothing for adults

NZ Election 2020: National promises $30 million boost to childhood dental services, but nothing for adults
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The National Party is promising to increase spending on childhood dental services by $30 million, but has stopped short of offering anything for adults. 

National is concerned that around 120,000 kids are on dental waiting lists despite dental care being free up until you're 18, so it plans to increase the $100 million currently spent on childhood dental services by $30 million. 

"The investment is part of National's Social Investment approach. By providing a targeted intervention in childhood we can provide lifelong benefits to our kids' health," National Party leader Judith Collins said on Tuesday. 

"This investment will also provide savings to individuals in the long run as they will require fewer expensive dental procedures."

But National hasn't promised anything for adult dental care. 

Labour's health spokesperson Chris Hipkins has also ruled it out, telling Newshub Nation on Saturday it would be too expensive in the current environment, given the Government has borrowed billions of dollars in the wake of COVID-19. 

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

A Ministry of Health report in 2018 found that 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 wasn't made public until August this year after Newshub went to the Ombudsman. 

"A sizable proportion of the adult population does not access oral health care due to cost," the report said. "These adults are more likely to be Māori, Pacific, or from deprived areas."

Hipkins said on Tuesday Labour will release its plan for childhood dental care when the party's health policy is unveiled. 

He said he was "fortunate" to attend a school with a dental clinic on site. 

"We got regular dental check-ups through the school dental clinic," he said. "Nowadays rather than investing in dental clinics in every school we have mobile dentistry services, and actually they're amazing, still providing the same level - if not better - dentistry care to what the old school dentistry clinics offered."

Both Dr Reti and Hipkins told Newshub National they are not keen on a sugar tax, but Dr Reti kept the door slightly open, saying he was waiting on the results of new research from the UK.   

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told The AM Show on Tuesday he would be open to the idea of a sugar tax if evidence suggested it would help. 

"We use price instruments including taxes and levies on a range of products. The levy on sugary drinks is one that's been used in other countries that's shown some success," Dr Bloomfield said. 

"I'm quite interested in where that might sit with other things that can be done to actually help address overconsumption of sugary drinks and of course the underlying problem which is overweight and obesity in children.

"That's certainly a major issue for us so things that work I think we should be looking at seriously."