Public health expert brands childhood decay a “disease of poverty” in New Zealand

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A public health expert in New Zealand has branded childhood decay a “disease of poverty.”

Dr Rob Beaglehole, co-author of a recent report focused on the consequences of childhood decay, said that it is clear that poorer children have a much higher risk of developing decay than kids from more affluent areas. The report, which is entitled, ‘Too soon for the tooth fairy: the implications of child poverty for oral health”, investigates the link between economic status and dental health. Co-author, Prathibha Sural, stated that children are suffering, but the crisis is also taking its toll on public healthcare systems.

The most recent statistics show that more than 29,000 children under the age of 12 years old are having teeth removed every year. Over 6,000 procedures take place in hospital at a cost of $4,000 per operation. Decay is the most common chronic disease in Kiwi kids and one of the leading causes of hospital admission.

Dr Beaglehole explained that poor oral health in childhood contributes to a diverse range of health problems in later life, as well affecting socioeconomic status. People who have poor dental health are more likely to require treatment, which carries a cost, and bad teeth can also impact confidence and the ability to secure employment.

The authors of the report are hoping that their research will make the government sit up and take notice of a problem that is becoming more profound and unnerving.

Professor Toni Ashton, health spokesperson for the Child Poverty Action Group, claimed that successive governments have mentioned dental health as a priority, but failed to take appropriate action.

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