Inequities for Māori in the oral health space

By Tema Hemi

Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare says inequity in accessing Māori health services is at the top of his priority list as numbers start to stack up against Māori in the oral health space.

Māori led solutions to the problem is what Māori oral health providers discussed in Wellington today at the National Symposium on tackling Māori oral health inequities. 

One of the inequities in providing better access for Māori in oral heath is the lack of Māori within this space.  

Henare says, "The first thing is to get more Māori more so Māori health workers into this space. Secondly funding is a major issue. Our Māori services all over the country want to provide these services for our Māori communities but don’t have the necessary funding to do so".

Wai 2575 the Māori Health claim will have great influence on how Māori health providers implement oral health initiatives. Deputy Director-General of Māori Health from the Ministry of Health, John Whaanga says the Treaty of Waitangi plays a significant role.  

Whaanga says, "We should all know that the basis of all things pertaining to Māori health for Māori is the Treaty of Waitangi. It is the backbone of all things that Māori aspire to in terms of Māori health".

Henare also says, "The whole reason I spoke of the Wai 2575 Māori Health claim is because the Waitangi Tribunal and the government have a long journey to reach success for Māori health".

Māori children had a higher number of missing or filled teeth than non-Māori children in 2013. Initiatives like the banning of fizzy drinks in schools helpedo raise awareness with younger generations. 

"That particular issue is at the forefront of my thoughts especially around issues like oral health, sugar diabetes etc," Henare said. 

Whaanga also says, "First the government need to pay attention to what Māori are asking for. Secondly the government need know what their role is in supporting Māori to achieve their goals".

The focus of this two day symposium will be to develop innovative solutions that will eliminate these inequities that Māori face.  

"The main thing for me is that we openly discuss, we interact and we study closely what is the best way forward for Māori in terms of oral health," Whaanga said. 

Henare says in conclusion, "At the conclusion of this symposium there would have been a lot of ideas moving forward and where we are at now".

Statistics says that Māori adults were less likely than non-Māori adults to have visited a dentist in the past 12 months.