Clockwise from top: Ezra McFarland (14), Kiana Shutkowski (15), Ngahere Whareherehere (14) and Katlyn Doyle (15) from Nelson Youth, who are making the most of free oral health care services. Photo: Kate Russell.

Teens get serious about teeth

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It’s official – Top of the South teens have been visiting the dentist more than any other adolescents in the country.

Statistics show that Nelson Marlborough Health had the best adolescent oral health enrolment and utilisation results in New Zealand in 2018, with the latest interim results at 80 per cent compared to 67.5 per cent nationally.

As well as NMH attributing the results to the comparatively high number of dentists providing services to youths, Nelson Weekly asked Whanake Youth how they were getting more teenagers to the dentist.

Their answer – The Wicked Tooth Fairy, a Nelson-based transportation and support service.

More than 100 appointments have been made with the service since it was launched in June last year – that includes 70 from 2018 and 36 this year, so far.

Rachel Gordon, The Wicked Tooth Fairy project lead, says they have increased their numbers “significantly” this year, with another 13 teens booked in this month.

“We are getting more referrals from students, and their friends are referring others on for us to contact. Even dentists have been sending us through referrals.”

Free dental care is available to teens from year nine to their 18th birthday from contracted dentists through the adolescent oral health service, which includes one examination per year, treatment and advice.

Fifteen-year-old Jess Watkins from alternative education provider Youth Nelson, says if it wasn’t for The Wicked Tooth Fairy she would never have gone to the dentist.

“They pick me up, take me there, bring me back and a support person comes with me. If I was by myself, I wouldn’t have gone. I don’t like it and I wouldn’t have been bothered. But they encouraged me without being pushy.”

Co-director of Whanake Youth, Lee-ann O-Brien, says many teenagers get nervous about going to the dentist.

“But we liaise with the dentists, schools or other education providers and provide the transport and support to fill out all the forms.”

She believes the service has “definitely” contributed to the latest statistics.

“It’s the only service like it in the country. Eighty percent is good, but we’re still working with that other 20 per cent, though. We’re aiming for 100 per cent.”