April 29, 2019
Issue 04 2019

The Dental Divide

There is so much to mull over as an international student - from adapting to a new setting, to finding a part-time job to fund your studies and living costs. It is likely that you push your health aside as there are everyday matters to fight with.

It is a common feeling to assume that you need not visit a dentist unless you have a problem.  So, I haven't seen a dentist in ages. One evening, a  throbbing pain started in my lower right molars. I hadn’t had any tooth issues before, so for me it was very upsetting.  I immediately began scouring the internet for information on tooth pain reliefs.  My experiments on my aching tooth began with cloves, sesame oil, salt water and tea tree oil.  Even though it gave me a momentary relief, the pain came back again with renewed intensity.

When the tooth pain became intolerable I rushed to a dentist.  Under a gleaming light, the dentist asked me to open my mouth wide and started searching for the monster lurking in my mouth.

“It will cost you around $1,400 for a root canal treatment and filling, and another $1500 for a crown,” she informed, exhibiting her exceptional teeth in a grin.

I tried to speak with my mouth wide open while she was tinkering with my teeth, "That is 10 times more expensive than my home country.”  

I remember the sympathetic face of the dentist as she juggled inside my mouth and asked, "Are you an international student?"

"The dental treatments are costly in New Zealand and it is the only solution to save your tooth,” she added, holding the x-ray equipment in my mouth.

The thoughts of drills digging up my tooth with sharp ends, the intense pain that would follow after the treatment and the enormous cost associated with the treatment sent shivers down my spine. After returning to campus, I realised that student insurance only covers emergency dental treatments and they won't cover your bills if you need a root canal or a filling.

I shopped around for a low-cost dentist, however I realised that it would still cost me around or above $1,000 for a  root canal treatment in New Zealand. A visit to the dentist itself costs around $120. As the rich shell out cash for cosmetic dentistry to flaunt the 'classism' tied up to their tooth, international students like me are struggling to fork out for treating a single tooth in New Zealand.

Embarking on a journey for health purposes has become very trendy of late and some of my friends hinted that deals on dental treatments are luring a growing number of  New Zealanders to Fiji. The thought of going to another country alone and having a root canal with nobody beside me was petrifying. I thought about many students like me who desperately need dental care but cannot afford it.

Because the money in our pocket is low, most students like me opt for budget-friendly snacks, which often aren't a healthy option. Also, a good number of students often rely on fizzy drinks, which contain high amounts of sugar and damage the teeth. We may not be making regular dental visits and when the underlying issues crop up, we are supposed to pay exorbitant dental costs in New Zealand. As an international student, we just can't afford to be sick.

Many low-income students like me live in pain and often take dental care into their own hands, making it a terrible, septic mess. With a mouthful of pain and left with limited choices, we would like the authorities to spare a thought for some subsidies around dental treatment in New Zealand.