Election 2023: Concern there may be challenges with proposed funding level for Labour dental policy

Labour's flagship free dental policy may need a trip to the dentist itself, not just for a polish and rinse, but for a drill and fill.

The Dental Association says the $380m Labour's budgeted for it is too low and dentists would be stretched to roll it out.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins was out on the streets of Newtown on Monday, calling into a local pharmacy where the party's free prescription policy was going down well.

So well, there was a gift of flowers from one shop owner.

But it wasn't free flowers or free prescriptions raising concerns, it's the cost of free dental.

"We are concerned there are some challenges that will arise with that funding level," said Dr Robin Whyman, director of dental policy at the New Zealand Dental Association.

While Dr Whyman welcomes free dental care for under-30s, he's concerned about how Labour plans to pay for it.

"If the numbers do rise to the level of people we expect to have care then we think the funding levels may be conservative," he said.

It's their flagship policy and people in Newtown love it, but does it need a filling of its own?

Hipkins said he was comfortable with Labour's costing and was happy to release it - which he did.

Labour has costed it by taking the 2019 Combined Dental Agreement which funds dental care for adolescents aged 13-18 and costs $37.85m.

They've taken that figure, adjusted it to account for inflation and population change, and then increased it 25 percent for 18 and 19-year-olds, 50 percent for 20-to-23-year-olds, and 75 percent for 24-29-year-olds, which reflects how teeth deteriorate with age.

That's how they got to the four-year cost of $380m.

"The level of funding in the current contract is challenging practices to be able to provide the services within their affordable limits," said Dr Whyman.

Even with Labour's calculation increase, there's still concern with the type of treatments that'll be in demand.

"Providing dental care to young adults is a different level of service than providing to the young teenage years and that will be part of the challenge of rolling the plan out," Dr Whyman said.

National leader Christopher Luxon said he was "very sceptical" of the Government's ability to get things done.

Hipkins acknowledged there will always be "a little bit of unders and overs".

"But we're absolutely confident that the overall commitments in this election campaign are affordable," he said.

The real cost will bare its teeth when - or if - it's rolled out.