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Dunedin tech firm launches new oral health platform

A new health care model has launched to help address the high number of Kiwis with poor oral health and reduce access barriers to preventative dental treatment.

Dentists say cost uncertainty is a major barrier to accessing preventative oral health care and the cost of services varies significantly throughout New Zealand.

Dental clinics in seven cities and regions from around the country have joined the programme, which is believed to be a first for New Zealand.

Latest data shows that around 40% of Kiwis, including 54% of Māori and 52% of Pasifika, are unable to afford dental care. New Zealand also has the highest number of adults needing dental care among more than 11 OECD countries.

When it comes to actual dental visits more than half of Kiwis (54%) only seek out dental help when they have a problem with their teeth, that number was higher for Māori 73% and Pasifika 78%.

The new model which is a preventive oral care subscription aims to bring Kiwis back into regular dental visits for as low as $1 per day, allowing them the ability to stretch out payments while standardising health costs across regional New Zealand.

Maykon Dias, spokesperson for EasyDental, says the programme aims to address the varying costs of preventative visits between dental practices and regions, ensuring that patients know the total cost of their oral health each year and can budget for it accordingly.

“Our research shows that people who have planned for their dental visits from a financial perspective are more likely to attend, this model will provide consistency of cost and care throughout the regions we operate in and across oral care providers,” he says.

Dias says the full patient subscription covers a dental exam, x-rays and one hygiene treatment annually. The company also offers a basic subscription service which includes an additional hygiene treatment (for 6-monthly visits).

He says a key focus of the new programme will be on education and decay prevention and to support this, patients will have access to videos, tutorials, and studies through their online dashboard.

Dias says under the prevention package patients pay a fixed monthly amount to access 2-4 preventative dental visits during a 12-month period, with an average cost of $1.35 per day.

“This removes the financial pressure of large up-front bills at the time of their visit and also reduces the chances of having future expensive dental treatments as they are caring for their teeth throughout the year,” he says.

“Research also shows that regular preventive visits are also associated with better health outcomes in patients with diabetes and chronic artery disease, which also results in significant savings in other healthcare costs. For instance, untreated gum disease has been linked to cardiovascular risks, dementia and diabetes,” Dias says.

In addition to benefitting patients, Dias says the new programme is being championed by dentists who say they struggle with patients' lack of compliance, dentists in Auckland, Mangawhai, New Plymouth, Hamilton, Christchurch, Timaru and Dunedin have already signed up for the initiative.

“The feedback from oral health care providers is that adherence to preventative dental care from patients is low, this has worsened with the cost of living crisis as Kiwis prioritise more immediate needs such as power and food," Dias says.

“We work in tandem with dentists to help meet the challenges of the industry in New Zealand. Outside of the subscription model, treatment fees remain at the discretion of the healthcare professional, however, EasyDental points will help patients pay for these private fees, and may help to increase treatment compliance and patient’s overall health,” he says.

Dias says poor dental care comes at a cost to the economy with research showing half the global population had untreated oral disease with an estimated cost towards dental expenditure and loss of productivity in one year at $544 billion.

“Businesses can also opt into the programme with a points-based contribution system, with every point accumulated by the employee equal to $1 which can be redeemed whenever needed.

“Essentially the employer is able to set the points they would like to offer their employees, individually or as a fixed amount across the workforce. These points can accrue over time and the balance pays for the dental visits, with the business only paying for the points that are used,” he says.

Dias says they also offer a free online caries risk assessment for Kiwis unsure whether they need dental intervention or not.

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