At our home, a lonely incisor lies under a pillow awaiting the tooth fairy. It’s been there for 10 nights – but that’s nothing compared to the wait some of our children are having to endure for a dental check.
The Te Huruhi Dental Clinic has been closed since late 2019 – that’s 18 months without a check-up for some – and details of an expected re-opening date are proving difficult to track down.
Before the clinic closed, and in the midst of the re-build of Te Huruhi Primary School, a concerned parent asked Gulf News to find out what the plan was for the dental clinic located at the school.
That was August 2019 and, responding to inquiries, logistics manager at Auckland Regional Dental Service Dianne Houston said the dental clinic operated by the service was expected to be temporarily closed from late September that year. Temporarily. Once the old school was demolished, the plan was for the clinic to be relocated within the revamped school grounds, with the clinic expected to be open again for the start of the 2020 school year.
Ms Houston said the ARDS team would ensure all children due for an appointment in 2019 would be seen prior to the clinic closure.
But in September sub-contractor Stanley Construction went into liquidation and on 14 November the Ministry of Education notified Te Huruhi Primary School principal Adam Cels that the finish date for the school build had been put back from mid-December 2019 to 9 April 2020.
By that stage, the dental clinic had already been put up on blocks ready for its move, but demolition work planned to take place over the summer holidays was put back by the construction delays.
Ms Houston said that, regardless of any changes to the project timeline, ARDS would continue to work with the Ministry of Education to ensure the highest possible level of dental care remained available to its young patients throughout the project. That included the provision of a mobile dental clinic and local dentists providing emergency and unplanned treatment.
Now 18 months after the clinic closed and with Te Huruhi Primary School having enjoyed its new buildings since June 2020, Gulf News recently went back to ARDS to find out the cause of delays and when the community can expect the clinic to be up and running again.
The inquiry was badly timed, our questions landed with the ARDS communications team at the Waitematā District Health Board the day after the government announced a massive overhaul to the health system. More than a week later the reply came back, this time attributed to an Auckland Regional Dental Service spokesperson, that the infrastructure needed to re-open the dental clinic had not yet been put in place due to changes in the project timeline.
“We understand this may be a point of concern for the Waiheke Island community. We have been working closely with the Ministry of Education to be able to re-open the clinic, once the correct infrastructure and building works are complete,” the response said.
“Throughout 2019, the ARDS mobile dental clinic was also regularly based at Waiheke School. Working around Covid-19 disruptions, the mobile clinic continued to service the community via Waiheke School in 2020 and has already spent time at the school throughout February and March of 2021. Planning is under way for the mobile clinic to return to Waiheke Island in term two.
“During this time, whānau of school children who are overdue for an appointment can expect their tamariki to be called in for a check-up or treatment.”
Our follow up questions about what actual infrastructure was required, the timeline for that infrastructure and whether it would be ready within 2021 were re-directed to Auckland District Health Board, which in turn is looking into whether it is the Ministry of Education that needs to answer questions about the timing of the re-opening.
In the meantime, the school is equally in the dark about plans for the clinic and many of this island’s children’s growing teeth remain unchecked, something we simply cannot afford to be indifferent to. Ministry of Health data shows that of the 15,066 Year eight children checked in 2019 by dental services in the Waitematā, Auckland and Counties-Manukau District Health Board, 10,534 had decayed, missing or filled teeth. Of course nobody knows the oral health situation of the developing mouths that weren’t checked.
While at our home we know the tooth fairy will turn up any night now, it would be nice to have the same certainly about the return of our children’s dental clinic.• Erin Johnson