Dental care is free for everyone under the age of 18 in New Zealand, yet Pasifika adolescents in the nation are less likely than their peers of other ethnicities to access it, according to the University of Otago. Potential barriers include a lack of arranged appointments, unwelcoming clinic environments, and financial hardships—and adolescents are suggesting solutions.
“Interventions aimed at addressing the disparities in access, and outcomes experienced, are needed,” said Dr. Lee Smith of the university’s Faculty of Dentistry, who led a study that interviewed groups of Pasifika adolescents about their attitudes, understandings, and experiences of oral healthcare.
“Few dental studies have included adolescent voices, and therefore the study is somewhat unique in dentistry,” said Smith. “Rather than simply re-describing the inequities in oral health access and outcomes, the participants’ suggestions have the potential to overcome them.
Participants provided suggestions to overcome these issues, such as reducing the cost of oral healthcare and products; making access to clinics easier; arranging transport to the dentist or having dentists visit schools; and making clinical environments more welcoming, such as simply changing the radio station.
The adolescents also recommended recruiting more approachable, younger, and Pasifika or Maori oral health professionals. There were further suggestions about increasing the importance placed on oral health in Pasifika families and communities through education in Pasifika languages, including through the church and visual and social media.
“Policy makers should look at implementing at least some of these suggestions for change, or at least treating them as a conversation starter on how to address the inequities in Pasifika adolescents’ oral healthcare access,” said Smith.
The study, “Pasifika Adolescents’ Recommendations for Increasing Access to Oral Health Care,” was published by the New Zealand Dental Journal.