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Experts warn of school-based oral health crisis by 2025.

An aging workforce could lead to the demise of school-based community oral healthcare services for children and adolescents living in rural areas by 2025, a recent survey has revealed.

The National Dental Therapy Workforce Age Profile by District Health Board (DHB) survey found more than 50 per cent of the public oral healthcare workforce is aged over 50 years and may consider retirement within the next 10 years.

The survey was completed by members of the New Zealand School and Community Oral Health Services Society (The Society), and canvassed the nation's 791 dental therapists working in the public health sector.

The Society is urging the Ministry of Health and DHBs to develop a cohesive plan to ensure a sustainable public oral health care service is available and accessible to all school-age children.

President of The Society Pip Zammit says there is great concern that many children will be unable to access the dental care they need should a community oral health service not be available in schools.

In 2012, 34,000 New Zealand children had one or multiple teeth extracted due to dental decay and 5050 children aged seven years or under had a general anaesthetic for dental reasons, according to the Ministry of Health report: Admissions to New Zealand: Public Hospitals for Dental Care, A 20 Year Review.

"These statistics are alarming and will only get worse if children cannot access school-based community oral healthcare services. If we do not develop a cohesive plan to ensure the viability of our public oral health care services then we are letting down New Zealand families, particularly those living in rural New Zealand," says Zammit.

In New Zealand basic dental care is free for all school children up to 17 years of age. This care is provided by members of The Society employed by the nation's DHBs.

According to the survey, rural/regional areas of New Zealand are most susceptible to losing school-based community oral healthcare services due to the number of dental therapists aged over 50 years rising to 68 per cent.

Zammit says Canterbury is one of the worst affected areas with 77 per cent of oral health professionals aged over 50 years. Wairarapa, Northland, Hawke's Bay, Wanganui and the West Coast also show significant signs of an aging workforce.

Younger age groups are generally more dominant in urban areas such as Auckland, Hutt Valley and the Waikato.

"There are a number of regional DHBs that have job vacancies but we are struggling to recruit graduates in these areas because there is a natural reluctance among young professionals to move away from central urban zones," says Zammit.

"A school-based community oral healthcare service is vital, particularly to low socioeconomic families and those living in regional areas where children may not be able to access this level of care should it not be available in our schools.

"If we cannot successfully recruit and attract graduates to these areas, children living in rural and regional New Zealand will lose an important public health service."

Graduates aged 20-29 years currently make up 18 per cent of New Zealand's public oral health workforce (135 staff). Only 4.4 per cent of the total workforce (35 staff) is aged over 65 years.

Zammit described the survey results as "alarming" and that it presented "a bleak outlook" for the public oral healthcare system over the next five to 10 years.

"We knew the average age of dental therapists was high in New Zealand but we weren't aware of just how serious this problem was," she says.

"The survey results highlight a significant threat because if we can't maintain a strong public oral healthcare workforce, the DHBs will not be able to maintain this service nationwide."

Zammit says members of The Society will highlight the nation's vulnerability to Health Workforce NZ and DHBs by preparing a comprehensive report in conjunction with professional associations and universities.

The report will outline strategic priorities and develop an implementation plan to ensure the community oral health service and workforce is sustainable in the future.

Crown Dental offers oral cancer detection

Christchurch-based Crown Dental + Medical Limited has taken on the exclusive agency for the OncAlert[TM] Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System in New Zealand.

The OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System includes the OncAlert Oral Cancer Rapid point-of-care risk assessment test and the OncAlert Oral Cancer CD44 + Total Protein Lab Test.

OncAlert is a product of Vigilant Biosciences, Inc. a Florida, USA-based company that is a leading innovator and developer of solutions that aid in the early detection and intervention of cancer.

Crown Dental + Medical recently showcased the OncAlert System at the New Zealand Dental Association Conference at the SkyCity Convention Centre in Auckland.

Under the terms of the agreement, Crown Dental + Medical will exclusively market and sell the OncAlert POC Test and OncAlert LAB Assay to the dental and medical markets in New Zealand pursuant to New Zealand regulatory approvals of the products, which are expected by Q1 2016.

Headquartered in Christchurch, New Zealand, Crown Dental + Medical is a leading distributor and marketer of high-quality, innovative products for dental and medical health providers in New Zealand.

"We are excited to partner with Vigilant Biosciences to bring this exciting new technology to patients in New Zealand," said Ross Gunn, Director, Crown Dental + Medical Limited.

"The ability to assess the risk of oral cancer earlier, before it has progressed to a later stage, will help us save lives. The system is easy to use and easy to integrate into a standard dental practice, making it a valuable new tool in our arsenal to fight this disease."

In a recent study, published in April 2015, University of Auckland scientists revealed a "rapid rise" in diagnoses for oropharyngeal cancer--a type of mouth cancer--in New Zealand men aged 40 and over. Additionally, according to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, more than 600,000 people in New Zealand use tobacco, and over 550,000 are heavy drinkers--both key risk factors for oral cancer.

"We are pleased to announce the agreement with Crown Dental + Medical for the sale of our OncAlert System in New Zealand," said Matthew H.J. Kim, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Vigilant Biosciences, Inc.

"New Zealand is among the many countries that have seen a rise in oral cancer rates in recent years, and new tools to help assess risk and diagnose early are critical to reversing this trend. Through our partnership with Crown Dental + Medical, our goal is to provide innovative, accurate and cost-effective products that will result in earlier detection and intervention for patients."
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Publication:The Dissector: Journal of the Perioperative Nurses College of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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