Nearly 45 per cent of New Zealanders have, at some time, felt uncomfortable smiling – because of their teeth, according to new research revealing Kiwis' poor dental care habits.
The findings, from leading dental care firm Lumino The Dentists, shows that those who have felt uncomfortable about smiling rise to 60 per cent – or nearly two out of three – in the 18-24-year-old age group.
It also reveals that over a third (34 per cent) of New Zealanders brush their teeth just once a day and, of that 34 per cent, one in 10 is brushing once a week or even less frequently.
About two thirds (66 per cent) of Kiwis only visit the dentist if they have a problem or avoid the dentist altogether. Of those, over half (57 per cent) describe their oral health as ranging from "average to terrible", with almost a quarter (25 per cent) citing "poor to terrible".
Lumino Clinical Advisor, Dr Prashant J Kalyan, says the research raises serious concerns about the state of the nation's oral health and is urging Kiwis to take care of their teeth before it's too late.
"Poor oral health has wider implications on our overall health and wellbeing. It's been linked to serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, pregnancy complications and more," says Kalyan.
"With a third of Kiwis not even brushing their teeth the recommended twice a day, there's a concern that, as a nation, we will start seeing some very real health problems."
Despite a lack of proper care, the research (500 Kiwis aged 18 and over were polled) also shows Kiwis are very much concerned about the appearance of their teeth.
But despite that, New Zealanders do not always prioritise oral health when it comes to spending money on wellbeing. While one quarter (26 per cent) of Kiwis put oral care first, the research showed that women are just as likely to prioritise spend on skincare (24 per cent) over dental care while men would rather invest in a holiday (29 per cent).
Despite these findings New Zealanders do understand they're neglecting their teeth with 78 per cent agreeing it's easy to take oral health for granted. More than half (54 per cent) wish they had taken better care of their teeth when they were younger, particularly those aged 30-39 (60 per cent).
"Preventative dental care is the best way to reduce the need for ongoing dental work. Neglecting your oral health can lead to any number of issues down the track and if you hold off it will only make issues worse in the long run," he says.
The most effective way to maintain oral health is regular dentist and hygienist check-ups as well as diligent home care.
"Being pro-active about maintenance checks, as you would be with servicing your car, will go a long way to reducing the risk of Kiwis' oral health deteriorating – and I urge Kiwis to focus on a preventative strategy.
"If it has been a while between visits, or you're experiencing symptoms like sensitivity, pain, bad breath or inflamed and bleeding gums it's definitely time to book an appointment."
Regionally, the deep south contains the most Kiwis who brush their teeth and visit the dentist regularly. About 73 per cent of people in Otago brush twice a day. Southlanders visit the dentist most regularly (60 per cent once a year, the highest in the survey) and 70 per cent brush twice a day.
Waikato, however, tops the regional list of people who brush only once a day (46 per cent) and 82 per cent only go to the dentist if they have a problem or not at all. Over a third of Wellingtonians (36 per cent) brush once a day; 27 per cent of Aucklanders do likewise.