Porirua’s Pasifika children are far more likely than the national average to suffer tooth decay.
According to a report prepared for Porirua City Council, the amount of local Pasifika five-year-olds with decay in their baby teeth is 61 per cent; for Maori children it is 51 per cent, while the other ethnicities are at 25 per cent.
The overall national rate is 43 per cent. About 29,000 children nationwide, aged 1 to 14, had teeth removed due to decay, an abscess, infection or gum disease last year.
Dentists blame the high rate of decay on sugary drinks, and warn it could be just “the canary in the cage” indicating other serious health concerns such as diabetes.
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NZ Dental Association spokesman Rob Beaglehole said all schools in Porirua needed to adopt water-only policies.
“We know from data that Pasifika [people] are being hammered in terms of obesity and cardio-vascular disease.”
Poverty was be a “major risk-factor,” he said.
Supermarket shelves often sold large bottles of coke, which could sell for less per litre than milk or fruit juice.
The council report showed that poor oral health was a leading cause of potentially-avoidable hospital admissions for Porirua children under the age of five.
Between 2015 and 2016, 103 Porirua kids under that age were admitted to Wellington Hospital with dental problems.
Mana MP Kris Faafoi said kindergartens in the area were working hard to help teach parents about their children’s oral health.
“It’s not just Pasifika people, but it’s clear across the board,” he said.
“If you’ve got bad teeth, it can be a precursor to [other] health problems so families need to get on to this issue faster.”
Titahi Bay School principal Kerry Delaney said athough her school did not have a big issue with tooth decay, it stopped allowing sugary drinks about five years ago.
“We are lucky that our whanau have the dental centre on our site.”
NZ Dental Association Wellington Branch President Dr David McKelvey said changes the council could look at included water-only policies at its facilities and events.
“Alongside the therapists in the Bee Healthy Dental service, our members in the area are having to treat kids and parents suffering from the effects of sugary and acid drink exposure, and reducing consumption would benefit our patients of all ages.”
Figures in the council report came from the Brandon Hub Dental Clinic and Titahi Bay Dental Hub Clinic. It includes mobiles for the Porirua schools that go out from these hubs.
The report will be used to inform Porirua City Council’s 2018 to 2028 Long-Term Plan, which was accepted at a committee meeting last month.