Free under-30s dental care fills gap but more needed

Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) welcomes Labour’s proposed policy to reduce the burden of dental disease in Aotearoa – but says more preventative action is needed to address the causes of tooth decay.

Provision of free dental care for the under-30s, will help correct stark inequities in dental disease through better access to treatment and prevention services, HCA co-chair Dr Lisa Te Morenga says.

“We know 40 per cent of New Zealand adults cannot afford dental care – and half of these are Māori and Pacific people.”

Labour’s dental treatment policy needs to be paired with strong preventative measures to improve our food environment and reduce dental disease.

“Added sugars in sweetened foods and especially in sugary drinks is a major cause of dental caries and tooth erosion leading to dental disease,” Te Morenga said.

“It’s great news Labour says it will bring in a healthy drinks-only duty for all schools (unflavoured water and milk) as a next step.”

But more will be needed in this area including:

  • A mandatory healthy food policy in all schools
  • A levy on sugar content in drinks, which has been successful in the UK in reducing sugar consumption and promoting industry innovation to develop low-sugar products.
  • Expansion of Ka Ora, Ka Ako – the free healthy school lunch programme – as an effective way to replace ultra-cheap, ultra-sweet foods and drinks in lunchboxes with healthy meals.
  • Regulation to reduce exposure of tamariki to unhealthy food marketing.

“We are all having too much sugar which, in addition to tooth decay, also leads to over-eating and storing fat. This increases risks of other health conditions, including diabetes, stroke, hypertension, heart disease, dementia, and some types of cancer,” Te Morenga said.

Our tamariki are exposed to an average of eight advertisements for unhealthy food and drink every hour during peak television viewing times. There is no protection from relentless ads for unhealthy foods while children are online and, in the environments where they live, learn and play.

HCA looks forward to seeing bold preventative and mana-enhancing policy action from the next government.

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