Dental Care for Kids
Free (yes! Free!) dental care for kids was an unexpected perk when we moved to New Zealand. Somehow I missed the memo on this community service in the craziness of our move. I only found out about it because I posted on a New Zealand mom’s group asking for recommendations for paediatric dentists for the kids. There were no responses. I couldn’t figure it out. Everyone goes to the dentist, right?
Finally, some kind soul responded and said, “Have you signed your kids up with this program?” and pasted a link to The Auckland Regional Dental Services site. My mind was blown. Kids up to Year 8 (about age 13) go to the clinic associated with their school for regular checks with a dental hygienist and dentist. They get free regular care that whole time. After they age out of the school program, they are still entitled to free dental care at a regular dentist until age 18. Kids born in New Zealand are automatically enrolled into the program, but if you’re born abroad, you’ll need to manually enrol your kids, assuming you have a visa that entitles you to health services. (You can check here if you’re not sure.) The form to enrol is a one page document and can be emailed. It is really simple.
After enrolling the kids, I received an email asking me to confirm my email address and “home” clinic as the best way to communicate with ARDS for each child. They indicated I would be contacted in about six months for our first dental visit.
Six months later, I hadn’t heard anything from a dentist, so I called the number for the clinic. I spoke to a very sweet receptionist who looked up my kids and said they were, in fact, due for cleaning and she could set me up with an appointment for them right now. We arranged for our first visit the following week. (To be fair, I could’ve gotten one kid in in two days, but I wanted a time slot where I could bring both in together.) I was able to ask lots of questions about how this works, and the receptionist took her time answering me.
Our visit was relatively simple and straightforward. The kids and I arrived at 8:30 and sat in a small waiting room where “Ice Age” played on a TV. After a few minutes, an assistant asked me to fill out a quick form as it was our first time at the dental clinic. The wait gave me an opportunity to take in some details.
The clinic hours are pretty much school hours. Kids get appointments from 7:30 until 4, but there are midmorning and midday breaks.
The clinic was on school grounds, meaning it was very easy for kids to make the short walk from class to the dentist. No drive across town needed!
One student walked in without an appointment but with a toothache that kept him up last night. The staff simply asked him to take a seat so they could squeeze him in.
After a longer wait than I anticipated (about 20 minutes), we were called back into one of the exam rooms. Our hygienist was extremely apologetic about the wait. Both kids came in at the same time. Robert volunteered to go first. He put on glasses and leaned back in the chair. The exam room was white and sparse. No TVs mounted on the ceilings or fancy gear to keep the kids entertained. The hygienist asked basic questions, examined his teeth and bite, did a quick cleaning and fluoride treatment (which they asked my consent for ahead of time) and gave him a talk about the importance of brushing better around his gum line. All very typical. My one surprise was that they didn’t do x-rays. I’m assuming that will happen when he gets older.
Meadow went second and had a very quick preschool exam. The hygienist counted her teeth, did a quick clean and floss, and a little fluoride treatment. She was done in about 7 minutes, which is about the extent of the length of time a four year old can take in a dentist chair. Both kids got to pick out stickers, but there was no toy treasure chest like at a US dentist office. (There was also no free take away bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and flossers, which the kids didn’t notice, but I did.)
Our hygienist was very sweet with the kids and talked to them about what she was doing the whole time. The biggest surprise was after the cleanings. I asked what happened next and learned that things are different with kids’ dentists in New Zealand.
Each kid is put on a recall notice. If there are lots of issues or concerns, they come back in 6 months. If there are moderate concerns, 12 months, but if there are no concerns, they won’t get called back for 18 months! The American in me is freaking out about this. Next time I’m at my dentist - who has a normal 6 month cleaning schedule - I’m going to ask if I can bring the kids in between visits to the dental clinic. I can’t wrap my head around only getting all of that plaque scraped off every year and a half.
Besides the shock at the infrequent dental visits, I was happy with the quality of care the kids received. They both left relaxed and ready to go on with their day. No dental trauma here, just excitement about going to school late one day.
**** Update **** I confirmed with my private dental clinic - The Tooth Company - that they see kids on a regular 6 month cleaning schedule. It will cost NZ$95 (US$65) per visit for about 30 minutes of deep cleaning. We will be checking this out in about 5 months. I’m glad there is another option!