WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Desperate Kiwis with botched "DIY dentistry" efforts are turning up to a dental charity every month - including a man who took a power drill to the shards of his wisdom tooth.

Dr Assil Russell, founder of Revive a Smile, which has helped 10,000 people and counting, said the situation showed dentist visits needed to be subsidised for those on lower incomes.

People who tried to fix their own teeth were seen by Revive a Smile at least monthly, Russell said: "They've done a number on their teeth - left roots behind, left infection behind".

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The charity now has mobile clinics that operate five days a week after funding from the Southern Cross Health Trust, but they are nearly always fully booked.

"We are inundated with applications," Russell told the Herald on Sunday. "We even get referrals from DHBs - from hospitals."

Waitematā DHB recently confirmed support for a "comprehensive dental service for all New Zealanders", with staff there noting long queues at pain clinics and people turning up to ED.

Charles Llewell, a solo father from Rotorua, turned to Revive a Smile after an excruciating DIY effort.

The 44-year-old had impacted wisdom teeth that needed special surgery, but couldn't get help through the public system. Work and Income NZ would only loan money for X-rays. He lived in severe pain for years, which stopped him sleeping and made him grumpy around his son.

Eventually, he ripped the top off a wisdom tooth with pliers. Relief was followed by infection. His GP referred him to hospital but he still couldn't get the necessary surgery.

"I could barely talk. I'd use a pocket knife to clean out part of the tooth hole whenever I ate, otherwise food would sit on the nerve. And you get the knife in there and hit the nerve, and it would paralyse half my face."

When his son was away on holiday Llewell downed some whisky, and took a power drill to the sharp points of his left wisdom tooth. Afterwards, there was still about a quarter of the tooth remaining, and pain persisted.

Charles Llewell, a solo father from Rotorua, turned to Revive a Smile after an excruciating DIY effort.
Charles Llewell, a solo father from Rotorua, turned to Revive a Smile after an excruciating DIY effort.

He read about Revive a Smile on Facebook, and about two years ago got free treatment that gave him his life back. However, the wisdom tooth on his other side is now giving him trouble. Thankfully, he will be able to get treatment through Revive a Smile again.

Charles Llewell, of Rotorua, had such bad pain he used pliers and a drill on his teeth. Photo / supplied
Charles Llewell, of Rotorua, had such bad pain he used pliers and a drill on his teeth. Photo / supplied

Russell, who emigrated from Iraq with her family at the age of 5, will in the coming months present to Parliament a petition calling for a subsidy for dental care for people who need it and an increase in the age for free dental care to 20 years.

'I can smile again'

Auckland father of three Haydn Colquhoun's life has been transformed through Revive A Smile.

The 34-year-old lived in chronic and severe pain, because of decayed teeth caused by a genetic condition making them brittle and prone to breaking.

Abscesses caused headaches and sharp pain, and Colquhoun would instinctively put his hand over his mouth when he smiled, or try to keep his lips over his teeth.

His mother and partner heard about Revive a Smile, but Colquhoun was initially unsure, thinking there were others more needy. However, he decided to do something to set an example for his kids, aged 1, 5, and 11.

"It especially hurt when I saw how my kids looked at them or asked about them, I want them to look up to me as an example and strive to be healthy and look after their teeth."

Haydn Colquhoun received free treatment from Revive a Smile, founded by Dr Assil Russell (centre). Photo / supplied
Haydn Colquhoun received free treatment from Revive a Smile, founded by Dr Assil Russell (centre). Photo / supplied

The free dental work has rid him of pain, and restored his confidence.

"It has made me feel like I can smile again," he said.

Pain in the mouth

• About one in three New Zealanders have untreated tooth decay, and almost half of adults had avoided routine dental treatment in the previous year, because of cost.

• A charity providing free dental care to those in need frequently encounters people who have tried to fix their own teeth, sometimes with pliers or even power drills.

The cost of dental work

• Examination only: $76
• Single tooth extraction: $229
• Each additional tooth taken: $138
• Root filling: $735
• One surface filling: $153
• Composite crown: $408
• Hygienist - half-hourly rate: $110
• Full upper and lower dentures: $2557

Source: The average fee charged by NZ Dental Association members, according to the association's 2018 fee survey.