For a year Eraita Clarke has been suffering from severe tooth ache - the cost too prohibitive for any treatment to be done.

However a free dental clinic has provided some relief from the pain and the constant need for painkillers.

On Tuesday, she had a tooth extracted and sealed. And while more could have been done, she was conscious of allowing other people to have their turn.

"They did such an amazing job. Now that I have had my teeth done, I can actually smile and I'm not feeling as much pain."


She hopes the treatment will mean her dentist bill will go down when she gets the rest of her mouth seen to.

The Hastings resident is among about 700 people within the region who will be seen to as part of a collaboration between the New Zealand Defence Force and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board to provide essential dental care to adults with significant oral health needs.

Since last Monday, until March 22, a combined team of military and civilian dentists has been operating from the Cook Islands Community centre in Flaxmere to provide oral health care information and dental care and treatment.

Lieutenant Colonel Lee Turner, Officer Commanding of the NZDF's Dental Services, said the joint initiative at Hawke's Bay mirrored community outreach activities that the NZDF conducts regularly in New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific.

The NZDF had run similar outreach programmes in Bay of Plenty, Kaitaia, Vanuatu and Samoa, Lieutenant Colonel Turner said.

"For a number of years now, our Defence Force has been working alongside communities to support their health promotion efforts," he said.

"Apart from supporting communities, these outreach activities also provide an opportunity for our personnel to practise their skills in a field environment, as part of their ongoing training."

In May, the NZ Defence Force will travel to Samoa as part of "Tropic Twilight" where they will again provide oral health treatment where required.


Bernard Te Paa, Hawke's Bay District Health Board executive director – health improvement and equity, said the joint initiative would make a difference to adults and families throughout Hawke's Bay.

"The initiative has been given the name Tō Waha, which signifies the importance of our mouths in every aspect of our lives – how we speak, eat, smile, and generally how we feel about ourselves," Te Paa said.

"The messages and the treatment so many people will receive will make huge inroads to improving oral health and raising awareness of its importance in our communities, from Wairoa to Central Hawke's Bay."

The team will also run sessions at a number of local schools to help highlight the importance of good oral health and healthy lifestyle choices, and provide defence career information as part of Exercise Wisdom Tooth.

The NZDF contingent is a mix of Regular Force personnel and Reservists and includes dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, medics, career advisors and physical training instructors.

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