Auckland’s public dental service has failed to clear a backlog of nearly 2,000 children awaiting urgent dental treatment, many of whom are suffering.
The Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) pledged in November to fix the problem, with one board member saying it was keeping him up at night.
He has committed $650,000 to clear the waiting list of 2,157 children by June, but the latest figures, which will be presented at a meeting today, show there are 1,999 children on the list.
Most children were waiting to see a specialist dentist for work that could not be done by a dental therapist, with around 630 waiting for treatment under general anaesthetic.
Some of the kids on the original list will have been covered – but more have been added all the time.
Dental Association President Katie Ayers said there were not enough theaters – or people to staff them – to keep track of children who needed care under general anesthesia.
Dr Ayers, a pediatric dentist in Hamilton, said the problem was not limited to Auckland.
“It’s heartbreaking. I see it every day in my practice, children who have been waiting for at least six months on a waiting list with continuous pain. Parents are absolutely beside themselves.”
More needed to be done to sort out “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” emergency care, but funding was also needed to prevent future problems, Dr Ayers said.
This included fluoridated water, more education on diet and toothbrushing, and ensuring all children had access to proper toothpaste and brushes, she said.
In an article, the ADHB, which runs the specialist service for the city’s three district health boards, said it had long-term plans underway.
They included a workforce development plan and an overhaul of the operation of its entire system.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already existing problem, he said.
Dr Ayers said it would always have been difficult to clear the whole backlog and in many ways the dental service had done well to shorten the list, which had previously grown.
More than 173,000 children in Auckland were still late for a routine check-up at the dental clinic, representing 60% of the population.
Maori and Pacific children were over-represented in both backward groups, which district health boards say they are working to address.