Talking teeth for tamariki Marie Tata is a people person and is passionate about improving the health of tamariki. Behind the scenes she is part of a team working to boost the number of pre-schoolers being enrolled for free dental health services. For a long time the BOPDHB has struggled to reach its pre-schoolers enrolment target, records showed about 1800 Māori pre-schoolers were missing. Since Marie and the team has been on the job there has been a vast improvement. Latest data shows 75.7% of Māori pre-schoolers are enrolled for free dental care compared with 58.6% in March 2017. Marie says there’s nothing too complex about what they’re doing. “When I joined the team in August last year, I was given a long list of names to get through and there were several numbers for each person. It was a bit daunting. But then I realised I recognised some of the names or knew their extended whānau, that made a difference.” Marie says knowing the whakapapa connections coupled with her connections with Hauora across the Bay of Plenty has stood her in good stead. “I phone, text, make contact through Facebook messaging and if I know the whānau will ring the Nani or whomever to track down the caregiver.” Marie estimates she makes 60 calls each day. “Everybody’s got their own story, I’m not judgemental it’s important. The biggest thing I concentrate on is my approach to the conversation and saying the person’s name correctly, and that of their child. There are so many different ways to spell names. You’ve got to get the pronunciation right. It makes a big difference to how receptive they are and how the conversation goes. I like to get it spot on.” More than 500 tamariki have been enrolled for free dental care through Marie and the team’s work. And it’s emerged that a further 400 tamariki have left the region. “I haven’t come across anyone yet who doesn’t want their child to be enrolled for free dental checks. What I’m hearing from people is it can be difficult to get to the mobile dental clinics. Some don’t have a vehicle or it’s at work with their partner. They may live rurally. And there are also transport costs to consider.” Marie is based within the Good to Great Team in Māori Health Gain and Development working closely with the Community Health 4 Kids team. “I hear stories about tamariki having operations to get their teeth removed before they even start school. I’m a Nani, I’ve got mokopuna, it’s heart breaking when you think of the pain those little kids must have suffered.” Marie Tata is one of the faces behind the scene helping tamariki to enrol for free dental care. Healthy baby teeth are important, not only for chewing food - they contribute to self-esteem, confidence, appearance and proper speech. The baby teeth also hold spaces for, and guide the position of adult teeth. If baby teeth are removed ahead of their natural time to fall out, space for the adult teeth may be lost. War on tooth decay in the Bay Free dental care was provided in the Eastern Bay township of Taneatua recently in a New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) exercise with BOPDHB and Tuhoe iwi. Exercise Wisdom Tooth saw the 25-member NZDF team providing dental treatment at a temporary clinic set up at the Taneatua Medical Centre over two weeks. “The NZDF engages regularly in community outreach activities in New Zealand and the southwest Pacific region,” says Warrant Officer Class 2 Ross Heald, who led the team. “An important part of our training is practising delivery of treatment in a field environment. This is what we do on operations such as when we deploy to the Pacific as part of a humanitarian aid response.” Such activities also provided an opportunity for the NZDF to support community health promotion efforts, says Warrant Officer Heald. The NZDF contingent comprises a mix of Regular Force personnel and reservists, and includes up to six dentists, four dental hygienists, eight dental assistants and a physical training Instructor. Amongst the contingent of Army reserves were BOPDHB Community Dental Oral Health Therapist Timmy Reiber and Dental Assistant Elle Lloyd. Lieutenant Reiber and Private Lloyd are Army reserves outside of their day jobs. Lieutenant Timmy Reiber (BOPDHB Dental Oral Health Therapist) talks to schoolchildren about the importance of maintaining good oral health, a healthy diet and exercise. Even if your baby has no teeth, it’s a good idea to enrol your child, setting them on a path for good oral health for life. Phone 0800 TALKTEETH (0800 825 583) or 0800 935 5543 to make an appointment to have your child’s teeth checked. For more details see www.bopdhb.govt.nz and search Talk Teeth. While in Taneatua the NZDF team also held presentations on the importance of maintaining good oral health, a healthy diet and exercise to about 400 schoolchildren. A Tuhoe spokesman says the iwi valued highly the assistance of the NZDF. “For those with the greatest oral health needs, this service is offering respite from a build-up of dental care neglect while also providing the opportunity to build meaningful relationships between Tuhoe and the NZDF.” The NZDF ran a similar programme in Kaitaia four years ago, and does so as part of its regular humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises in the southwest Pacific. Exercise Wisdom Tooth - New Zealand Defence Force personnel provide dental treatment at a temporary clinic in Taneatua. Private Elle Lloyd (BOPDHB Dental Assistant) on her first NZDF exercise since joining the troops late last year.