Invercargill woman Marcie Reidy had issues getting in to see a dentist and a painful molar was treated by the emergency dentist.
Incentives are needed to get dentists in Southland as most practices have stopped taking new patients and closed waiting lists, industry officials and patients say.
Invercargill woman Marcie Reidy resorted to seeing the emergency dentist for her painful molar, as multiple Invercargill practices told her they were not taking new patients, nor would add her to waiting lists.
The New Zealand Dental Association president says Southland practices need to do more to incentivise dentists to the region amid the backlogs.
Association national president Katie Ayers said in some parts of Auckland dentists were struggling to find work, but in other parts of the country patients were struggling to find dentists.
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“I think it is a local shortage. Southland dentists have raised the shortage as a concern,” Ayers said.
“We’re at that stage now where incentives need to happen.”
While fewer dentists migrated to New Zealand in the past 18 months, there were an increasing number of dentistry graduates from the University of Otago [the only place they get qualified], Ayers said.
Reidy is concerned people would have to follow her path to some dental relief; seeing the emergency dentist because of a logjam in Southland.
She had not been to her dentist in six years, and when the molar gave her issues she found out the dentist had retired, and she had not been transferred to the new practice.
She would either try to get an appointment in Gore or Winton, but would likely continue to see the emergency dentist.
Reidy felt let down with the full practices and closed waiting lists, and wondered why more dentists were not attracted south.
Our children are losing the battle against tooth decay.
Dental association Southland president Kelvin Khoo said most Southland practices had not been taking new patients for six months, and those that were had long wait lists.
Southland practices needed to look at better remuneration for dentists to attract workers south, though doctors and general practitioners faced similar pressures, he said.
Khoo works at Tooth Works Invercargill, which is referring patients to Balclutha, Dunedin and Queenstown.
Tooth Works turned away 15 to 20 people each week, patients faced three-month waits and the practice had closed its waiting list, Khoo said.
Khoo was heartened by a group of final year dentist students who toured the region recently, where a few showed interest in moving to Southland.
The Southern District Health Board dental service at Southland Hospital provides treatment when it is essential for a medical or surgical condition, conditions like a cleft palate, when a general anaesthetic is needed or when the person cannot access other dentists because of physical or mental conditions.
Clinical director Nicholas Truman said the service was generally for hospital level care, not an alternative to private practices.
The DHB also offered a low income relief of pain service, which was opened up in early 2019, but then reverted to tighter conditions in January this year.
The service was opened up to all Community Services Card holders, but the volumes of people were too large, Truman said.
People again need to be on a Work and Income benefit to get pain relief.
The Southland Charity Hospital, currently under construction in Invercargill, will initially focus on unmet needs with dental care and colonoscopies.
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