Karen Turanga is a passionate registered Dental Hygienist - on a mission to spread the importance of good oral health care.

With over 25 years’ experience caring for and maintaining the health of people’s mouths, and a past president of the New Zealand Dental Hygienist Association - Karen knows a thing or two when it comes to preventive dental health.

She believes one of the most important things is asking the right questions.  

“Asking the right questions when assessing clients can give caregivers, family and whānau a greater insight into what might directly be causing unhealthy issues within the mouth. This may include things that contribute to gum disease, dental decay, pain and discomfort,” says Karen. Karen believes asking simple questions such as ‘Do you brush your teeth twice a day?’ seem obvious – but are vital. 

Karen, based in Hamilton is currently working on a programme called ‘CareRight’. CareRight is designed to bridge the gap between the professional dental health provider and those responsible for the care and wellbeing of others. The programme assists residential and home care providers with the tools and knowledge needed to carry out personal oral care, understand the health benefits and recognise potential problems before they become major health issues. 

“Understanding the health-related issues that can be reduced or improved, encourages people to value their own oral health as well as those they care for.  For example, the simple act of brushing your teeth twice a day, can reduce risks of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes and bronchial problems as well as improve confidence and wellbeing. 

Karen believes there is always something that can be done to improve people’s oral health. The main thing is to reduce the risks, provide education and promote basic oral care. 

“Unfortunately, we know that people who experience mental health and addiciton problems have poorer oral health, than those that don’t. By adopting and encouraging effective, regular daily oral health care, people can reduce some of the risk factors." 

I believe we can help improve life expectancy by providing the best level of oral care and prevention to all New Zealanders - including anyone experiencing mental illness and/or addiction,” says Karen.

Karen is a strong advocate of Equally Well and is currently working with the presidents of both the NZDHA and NZDOTA to promote Equally Well. 

Check out the following questions and observations that Karen recommends:

Questions for dentists to ask their patients:

  • Do you have dry mouth?
  • Do you brush your teeth twice a day?
  • Do you have any pain/sensitivity/ sharp or sore teeth? 
  • Do your gums bleed? 
  • Do you go to the dentist regularly? 

Key things for dentists to observe about their clients:

  • Is there a problem with acid reflux? 
  • Is any medication causing dry mouth? 
  • Do they have an open bite (mouth breathing or thrusting)? 
  • Do they grind their teeth? 
  • Do they practice habits that affect the health of their teeth eg. consuming unhealthy substances? 
Visit Karen's website or connect with her on Facebook.