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Friday 12 June 2015 12:10pm

Across all age groups, Māori do not enjoy the same oral health status as the majority New Zealand European population. Māori experience disparities in oral health across a range of indicators, from oral health outcomes to access to services. Māori mental health patients, tangata whaiora, have significant unmet dental treatment needs. Researchers from the Sir John Walsh Research Institute, in partnership with Māori health providers, have sought to investigate the oral health of tangata whaiora through a kaupapa Māori oral health research project funded by a Health Research Council of New Zealand and Ministry of Health Research Partnership.

The project, Oranga niho me nga tangata whaiora ($303,540 over 12 months) was conducted as a partnership between the University of Otago and Te Manu Toroa, a kaupapa Māori health service based in Tauranga Moana (Western Bay of Plenty) which offers Kaupapa Māori Health Care Services. Professor John Broughton of the SJWRI and Faculty of Dentistry, and Dr Vivienne Anderson (previously of the SJWRI, now of the University of Otago College of Education), led the Otago side of the project.

Research team

SJWRI, University of Otago
Professor John Broughton Principal Investigator
Dr Vivienne Anderson Qualitative Researcher

Bay of Plenty District Health Board
Dr Mark Lawrence Psychiatrist

Te Manu Toroa, Tauranga Moana
Mr Martin Steinman NMO Business Development Manager
Ms Jackie Nichol Administration Support, Dental
Mrs Sue Wright Home-based Support Worker
Dr Rudi Johnson Dental Surgeon
Dr Matt Johnson Dental Surgeon
Mrs Minnie McGibbon Dental Team Leader
Mrs Barbara Laing Dental Team
Mr Phil Hikairo Dental Manager

This study was a qualitative research project in which the thoughts, experiences, attitudes and behaviours of a sample of Māori mental health patients based within Tauranga Moana were elicited, both before and after receiving a complete course of dental care. Following recruitment, tangata whaiora underwent a mental health interview by a Māori psychiatrist, followed by a dental health interview by Māori oral health professionals. They then underwent a course of oral rehabilitation. After the completion of their dental treatment, participants were re-interviewed to ascertain the impact on their health and wellbeing of having a restored dentition.

The findings indicated that, prior to treatment, all participants reported episodes of dental problems such as pain and toothache, infection and bad breath. Some participants had suffered from toothache for considerable periods of time before seeking dental care, if at all. All participants reported seeking only emergency dental care as an adult. All had unmet dental treatment needs such as dental caries, failed restorations, retained roots, periodontal disease, edentulous spaces or edentulousness with no dentures. Most participants reported that their oral health did impact upon their tinana, hinengaro, whānau and wairua in various ways and to various extents.

After oral rehabilitation, most participants reported a positive improvement in their psycho-social well-being, oral function, self-esteem, relationships and dynamics within their immediate social environment. There was a major improvement in the oral–health-related quality of life of the participants, as indicated by the pre- and post- Oral Health Impact Profile data. A number of participants stated that they would in future take a more responsible approach to their own oral health care and to that of their whānau as well.

The full report is available for download from the SJWRI website.

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