NZDF revives Tuhoe smiles

A New Zealand Defence Force personnel talks to a patient at a temporary dental clinic set up in the Bay of Plenty town of Taneatua as part of a two-week exercise. Supplied photo.

Residents of a small Bay of Plenty town credit the New Zealand Defence Force for helping reverse a generation of dental health neglect after about 550 adults were provided dental treatment as part of a two-week exercise.

Feedback from the patients has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Big mihi to the NZDF for helping our people. Now everyone is smiling again,” one patient says.

“They have done a lot to help our people. We came here anxious but are leaving happy and appreciative.”

A 25-member NZDF team provided fillings, extractions and other dental treatment at a temporary clinic in Taneatua, which has a population of 786 and is in the traditional boundaries of the Tuhoe iwi.

The outreach was conducted in partnership with the Tuhoe iwi and Bay of Plenty District Health Board as part of Exercise Wisdom Tooth, which ran from March 2-15.

A spokesperson for Tuhoe Te Urutau Matua says the NZDF’s dental outreach helped address “a build-up of dental care neglect”.

“In a few days, we have reversed a generation of non-care of dental health by our whanau,” he says.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Ross Heald, who led the team, says the community outreach to Tuhoe enabled NZDF personnel to practise delivering treatment in a field environment.

“It was a great opportunity to enhance our skills. Dental outreach is one of the things we do when we deploy to the Pacific as part of a humanitarian aid response,” Warrant Officer Heald says.

“We are pleased that we have been able to help the community in a tangible way. We know how poor oral health can impact on daily life, causing pain, difficulty in eating and even eroding a person’s confidence to smile.”

Warrant Officer Heald says the team included a bilingual speaker and worked closely with Tuhoe to ensure the customs of their community were respected.

The NZDF team also gave presentations on the importance of maintaining good oral health, a healthy diet and exercise to about 240 schoolchildren in seven primary schools in the region, Warrant Officer Heald said.

The contingent comprised a mix of Regular Force personnel and reservists, and included up to six dentists, four dental hygienists, eight dental assistants and a physical training instructor.

A similar programme was run by the NZDF in Kaitaia four years ago, and as part of its regular humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises in the Southwest Pacific.

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