WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Oral healthcare campaigners in New Zealand are celebrating an increase in the special needs dental grant and a broadening of the criteria that patients need to meet in order to receive it. The grant had not been increased since the 1990s, despite substantial rises in the cost of living and around 40% of the population not being able to afford a visit to the dentist.
The Ministry of Social Development dental grant more than tripled on 1 December—from NZ$300 to NZ$1,000 (€181 to €605)—and can now be used for immediate and essential dental treatment such as dental restorations and the treatment of gingival infections. Previously, the grant had only been available to patients who were in pain and required emergency treatment, as reported by state broadcaster Radio New Zealand.
The increase followed a mid-November report that highlighted stinging inequalities in the accessibility of dental care in New Zealand. According to the Tooth Be Told report, in 2020, 40% of New Zealand adults and half of the Māori and Pasifika population were unable to afford dental treatment. In the same year, New Zealand had the highest unmet need for adult dental care among 11 comparable countries, and around 250,000 adults had teeth extracted owing to dental caries.
According to the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA), which has long campaigned for greater equality in oral care, the increase constitutes a first step towards improving access to dental treatment for low-income adults. “The NZ$300 limit had not increased for a quarter of a century. The association is pleased that our advocacy for increasing access to dental care for low-income families has succeeded,” NZDA President Dr Erin Collins said in a statement.
Patients do not need to pay back the NZ$1,000 grant, and it can be used to fund a number of dental procedures over a 12-month period. Last year, around 40,000 New Zealand beneficiaries received advanced benefit payments for emergency dental care, and the Ministry of Social Development said that the changes to the grant would enable up to 50,000 adults to meet their dental costs without having to take on debt.