Community Scoop

Dental and oral health therapists to “fill” gaps

Press Release – NZDOHTA

New Zealanders accepting of receiving dental care from dental and oral health therapists to “fill” gaps in their Oral HealthNew Zealanders accepting of receiving dental care from dental and oral health therapists to “fill” gaps in their Oral Health

In late 2017, former Prime Minister, Helen Clark ‘tweeted’ that it was “time for a major government initiative on the right to dental care.” In other words, New Zealand needs to look at an affordable and accessible model of care so that all New Zealanders are able to achieve good oral health. The ‘tweet’ sparked much discussion on social media and within the media. Professional associations representing different oral health professions also put forward their views, including the New Zealand Dental and Oral Health Therapists Association (NZDOHTA). However, NZDOHTA also recognised that there was a significant voice missing in the key discussions, that being the voice of the consumer.

The Health Quality & Safety Commission defines consumer engagement as: “…a process where consumers of health and disability services are encouraged and empowered to actively participate in decisions about the treatment, services and care they need and receive. It is most successful when consumers and clinicians demonstrate mutual respect, active listening and have confidence to participate in full and frank conversation. Systems that support consumer engagement actively seek input from consumers and staff at all levels of an organisation” (HQSC 2015). Therefore, it was essential that NZDOHTA ask the opinions of consumers to determine whether there was public support for it to continue advocating for adult care scopes of practice in dental and oral health therapy. To ensure that NZDOHTA was not biased in their views, the Association engaged the services of Colmar Brunton, a reputable and widely-respected research company to research the acceptability of appropriately-educated dental and oral health therapists in providing basic dental care for all ages in New Zealand. Colmar Brunton ran the survey during April 2018 and surveyed 500 New Zealanders over this period.Of the respondents, 66% had no objection to dental and oral health therapists with appropriate training providing dental care for all ages. This percentage increased in the 25-34 year age group, with 73% of the respondents willing to accept dental treatment from appropriately-trained dental and oral health therapists. . It was encouraging that 67% of the respondents agreed to dental and oral health therapists providing oral health care for the elderly in residential aged-care facilities.

“Based on the findings of the Colmar Brunton survey, NZDOHTA is convinced that the development of educational programmes to support dental therapists obtaining the ‘Scope of Practice for Adult Care in Dental Therapy’, and oral health therapists to provide restorative care for over 18-year-olds, is not only important to our members but is also supported by two-thirds of New Zealanders surveyed as part of our independent research. We strongly believe that the consumer voice is critical and providing patient centred care is part of our workforce’s philosophy” – Arish Naresh

Dental therapists have been utilised in Alaska (the first of whom trained at the University of Otago) to improve access to care for low-income adults and indigenous people, and in Minnesota, where dental therapists provide care for low-income, underserved, and uninsured people. Dental and oral health therapists in Australia and the United Kingdom are also able to provide preventive and restorative treatment for adults and will be a valuable addition to the oral health care team in New Zealand.

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