Helping Waikato children one mouth at a time

Paediatric dentist Katie Ayers has been working with Braemar Charitable Trust for more than a decade. She works in specialist private practice in Hamilton, and through the Trust she gives her time and expertise to carry out free dental treatments to children in need – children who for whatever reason cannot readily access the public sector and who require urgent treatment.

Braemar Charitable Trust is the 100% owner of Braemar Hospital, one of New Zealand’s largest private hospitals. The Trust and the Hospital, with the help of specialists who donate their time, organise free community surgeries to help boost health outcomes in the Waikato region.

“New Zealand has an oral health crisis,” Katie says. About 8,000 children are hospitalised every year for dental treatment under general anaesthetic. It is understood that in public hospitals each surgery costs the tax payer about $4000.

Some families struggle to fit toothpaste and toothbrushes into their budget as there are other priorities, but poor oral health can have long-term and sometimes painful consequences. A child with toothache might cry at night in pain, and cannot eat properly, nor function well at school or at play. That in turn can affect the whole family.

Katie says there are not enough oral health therapists (dental nurses in old language) working in the public sector, and community-wide approaches to oral health need to be modified. “We need to change our thinking. For example, stop giving out sweets after immunisations, or as a reward at school or sport. There also needs to be more public education about how to care for our teeth.”

Katie is well-qualified to lead change in the sector. She has a Masters degree in Paediatric Dentistry and a Doctorate in Dental Public Health.

Earlier in her career she served as a director of the Medical Assurance Society and that prompted her to study for a qualification in governance. She served on the Executive Board of the New Zealand Dental Association for several years, and was President for the last two of those years. Recently she has taken up the position of President of the Australasian Academy of Paediatric Dentistry.

“As a practicing dentist I can only help one mouth at a time,” Katie says. “But governance roles allow me to advocate for whole populations. Yes, it can be stressful, and sometimes frustrating as we try to bring about change, but I know we can make a difference.”  

Katie is a medical trustee on the Braemar Charitable Trust and a director on the Braemar Hospital Board. The Trust works closely with primary health organisations and other community health providers to address unmet and unseen needs to improve health in communities. Dental services arranged or funded by the Trust include surgeries at Braemar Hospital and partnerships with mobile dental clinics.

Braemar Hospital has more than 200 surgeons and anaesthetists who are credentialed to work at the hospital. Many of these specialists give their time, free, for community surgeries. Several have become credentialed at the hospital in order to enable the free surgeries. 

“Braemar has been good to me and my patients over the years and so I am happy to give back,” Katie says.

She has also supported the Trust’s charitable activities including community Hauora open days where health groups come together with Braemar specialists who “go on the road” to give their time to carry out assessments and minor surgeries in communities that don’t have timely or ready access to medical facilities. 

Katie’s own hours of pro-bono community surgery for children in need of urgent treatment combined with financial assistance from the Trust allows many Waikato children to become free of pain and infection. But her wider aim is to have a population that’s much more aware of the need for good oral health and with the knowledge and skills to maintain it.

Braemar Charitable Trust’s work includes a range of charitable activities such as supporting scholarships, funding medical research and health education. It works closely with Braemar Hospital for the community surgeries, with the Trust funding the cost of hospital staff and consumables which are provided at cost.


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