Wainuiomata resident Nitika Naidu grins at a memory of scrubbing a dirty set of teeth.
“People might say, ‘what about people with stinky breath or dirty teeth?’ But once you’ve finished cleaning someone’s teeth, it’s very satisfying.
“When I see the impact I’ve made on someone’s life – your patients are really happy and motivated to stay healthy – it’s always nice to see a smile.”
The 32-year-old Bee Healthy Oral Health Therapist is working in Hutt Valley communities after completing a Bachelor of Oral Health Dental Therapy degree at University of Otago.
Nitika had her study and job placement provided through a Pacific Oral Health Scholarship funded by the Ministry of Health and administered by Hutt Valley DHB.
Originally from Fiji’s second largest city, Lautoka, Nitika arrived in New Zealand when she was 18.
After over-coming an initial language barrier, she did a certificate in health science at Whitireia New Zealand.
Nitika had planned to study nursing, but switched to oral health after learning about the scholarship and researching oral health.
“It’s great to change someone’s perspective if they’ve been worried about going to the dentist.
“I went and had a tooth taken out when I was about seven or eight and it was the worst experience of my life in Fiji.
“Seeing kids here, I think we were way more scared. Maybe 10 to 20 per cent of kids here get scared. But if you are growing up in Fiji and see a dentist bus coming; children are crying.”
Fellow graduate Otessa Tuisila was originally from Samoa, and came to New Zealand when she was 12 years old. She had never been to a dentist.
“I needed so many fillings and tooth extractions and found it really hard spending many hours in the dentist chair.
“To anyone thinking of applying for this scholarship just do it. You'll meet amazing life-long friends and have great support everywhere you turn.”
Hutt Valley DHB Pacific Health Director Tofa Suafole Gush said graduates are offered a fixed-term position with a Wellington Region DHB Community Oral Health Service, and will be instrumental in assisting Pacific children.
Having dental therapists who share the culture of the children and families they are working with better addresses Pacific oral-health needs, she said.
“There are significant oral health inequalities for Pacific children in the sub-region with operations for teeth extractions due to decay being a big contributor to hospital admissions for children under five.
“However, there are few Pacific dental therapists in New Zealand. We are now bearing the fruits of seeing our own Pacific workforce grow in this area of health.”
Funding for further scholarships is being sourced. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.