The New Zealand Defence Force is providing free dental care and education in a small town in Bay of Plenty as part of a two-week exercise.
The 25-member NZDF team is providing 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 programme was being conducted in partnership with the Tuhoe iwi and Bay of Plenty District Health Board as part of Exercise Wisdom Tooth, which runs until 17 March, says Warrant Officer Class 2 Ross Heald, who is leading the team.
“The NZDF engages regularly in community outreach activities in New Zealand and the southwest Pacific region.
“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 Ross.
“This time we are helping the Tuhoe community achieve some of their health goals and remove some of the limitations that may be preventing them from seeking oral health services.”
While in Taneatua the NZDF team was also giving presentations on the importance of maintaining good oral health, a healthy diet and exercise to about 400 schoolchildren in six primary schools in the region, says Ross.
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.
A Tuhoe spokesman says the iwi valued highly the assistance of the NZDF.
“In a few days, we are reversing a generation of non-care of dental health by our whanau.
“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.