Objectives: To investigate Otago adolescents' views of oral health and oral health care, in order to increase understanding of the influences on their use or non-use of free care.
Design: The study employed a qualitative approach, using focus groups and grounded theory analysis.
Participants: Participants ranged in age from 13 to 18, and included both genders and a variety of educational attainments, ethnicities and family incomes. Focus groups were conducted in schools, training centres, a place of employment, a CYF (Child, Youth and Family) Home, and a University Hall of Residence.
Results: While aware of the normative pressure to attend for free dental care and engage in oral health care, Otago adolescents consider doing so to be "just so gay". They exhibit strongly held preconceptions about the expense of dentistry and the respective competence of dentists and dental therapists. The dental surgery environment was viewed as a major disincentive. Adolescent oral health beliefs centred on two models: the medicalised, pragmatic view of oral health (which valued the function of teeth); and the cosmetic view of oral health (which valued the aesthetics of teeth); or a combination of these two models. In both models, media advertising for oral health care products was a significant source of oral health information. The preferred oral health behaviour associated with the medicalised model was frequent use of chewing gum and rapid toothbrushing, and, for the cosmetic model frequent use of chewing gum and breath fresheners.
Conclusions: These findings support the international literature on the use/non-use of dental services even when the financial barriers to seeking such services has been removed. New Zealand dental care has developed without reference to the changing norms of youth culture, and the conventional dental practice setting is not viewed by adolescents as being inviting or appropriate. Increasing the uptake of free oral health care by that group will require some innovative approaches.