Dental practices in the Bay of Plenty have been run off their feet, working through a backlog after being unable to work during levels 3 and 4.
But dentists fear for their clients' dental health and their own businessesas people forgo smaller procedures as a result of widespread job losses.
Only "emergency" work was permitted during levels 3 and 4 because of the risk of spreading Covid-19.
The New Zealand Dental Association president Katie Ayers said dentists in the region were now trying to see the thousands of patients, prioritising those in most urgent need. The Tooth Fairy Dental in Mount Maunganui has four clinics in the Western Bay of Plenty and provided advice, antibiotic scripts and organised emergency treatment free of charge for more than 400 emergencies during lockdown.
Team Dental Tauranga operations manager Sarah Fuller said dentists had been working non-stop for the past 10 days. "We're also anticipating there will be a dive really soon."
She said people were struggling financially because of Covid-19 and they expected non-essential dental care would take a backseat.
"That's the stuff we see as essential - like the check-ups, dental hygienists, having the filling fixed that doesn't hurt yet."
She said this would "hugely" impact the business and strict consideration was needed to ensure the service could survive for patients as well as employees.
"We're having to be very careful moving forward about our expenditure, what we're spending money on, our hours and our rosters."
She said ensuring general check-ups were up-to-date would prevent heavy expenses down the track.
Lumino the Dentist Rotorua practice manager Kathy Longbottom said they had delayed cases, which had now created a backlog, on top of managing the new Covid-19 regulations.
She said some emergencies were dealt with throughout the lockdown, others were done through video consultation, which was more to help manage the pain.
Like other dentists, she expected a drop in the number of people coming in for treatment despite the various payment options that could be organised.
"Dentistry is not that affordable for your low- to middle-income earner," she said.
She expected more people would come in for treatment paid for by Work and Income, but only emergency work qualified.
"It's the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff."
Bay of Plenty District Health Board oral health and community dentist head of department Rudi Johnson said severe tooth decay and tooth accidents were showing up at the hospital.
Children had been injuring their teeth doing activities such as obstacle courses and trampolines at home.
More than 300 phone consultations were done during levels 3 and 4 and dental emergencies were mostly managed by prescriptions for pain relief and antibiotics. An 0800 phone number was established for adult dental emergencies during lockdown as well as a unique low-income adult contract to help fund adult emergency dental care with some local dentists.
Ayers said NZDA members were relieved to be back at work and expected some patients would postpone treatment because of reduced incomes.
But there was no evidence of this yet, she said.
The Community Oral Health Service (COHS), which cares for children is now also further behind than previously.
"Our greatest concern is prioritising those in most urgent need, many dentists have not yet resumed regular check-ups."