:Former crew member receives Queen’s NZ Order of Merit.
Auckland Dental Hygienist Cynthia Wallbridge has been appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday and Platinum Jubilee Honours, in recognition of her services to dental health and education.
Her passion for making dental care accessible to the most vulnerable began in 1985, when Mrs Wallbridge volunteered for five years with the dental team on the Mercy Ships hospital ship Anastasis. She helped meet urgent oral health issues for people in extreme poverty in Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Mexico. While on board she met her Kiwi husband, dentist and fellow volunteer David.
“Volunteering with Mercy Ships was a major life highlight personally and professionally. It was the first time I had volunteered my dental skills, and it inspired me. It grew my love for the profession and the confidence to make a difference. My faith grew, as did my dental knowledge and management skills. It was an excellent opportunity that stretched, developed and fine-tuned me. Volunteering with Mercy Ships was the springboard for volunteering throughout my dental career.”
Irish-born Cynthia Wallbridge founded the charity Family Teeth Matters in 2014 with her husband David, in response to the alarming state of our children’s teeth. “I was shocked when I heard about the very high percentage of preschool children with decayed teeth. It was worse than I thought. I checked out my neighbouring school who confirmed the students were eating and drinking large amounts of sugar. The school also told me there were families sharing toothbrushes, which horrified me.”
The aim of Family Teeth Matters is to reduce the number of cavities and extractions that are suffered by our tamariki (children), through building more oral health education at the ‘top of the cliff’. The rate of decay of children aged up to five years in greater Auckland, where the charity works, has risen up to 72%. There has been a sharp rise of children attending hospitals needing a general anaesthetic to have multiple teeth pulled. “There are now 8,600 children facing this horrible process each year,” explains Mrs Wallbridge.
Mrs Wallbridge has developed and presented the Detective Sugar Spotter educational programme to more than 12,000 Auckland school children, teaching them and their families about wise food choices and how to care for their teeth. Mrs Wallbridge presents dressed as a monkey, Detective Sugar Spotter, assisted by No Decay the Truth Fairy. They quiz the children and their parents about how much added sugar is in different types of food and sing jingles to help the children and their families remember key oral health facts. Free toothbrushes and water bottles are distributed. Mrs Wallbridge and her husband David have been interviewed by Seven Sharp’s Hilary Barry, WATCH HERE
The Wallbridges hope to expand the dental charity to collaborate with others working with vulnerable children across the entire country. “Dental decay, pain and misery is overwhelming for children anywhere,” she explains.
Mrs Wallbridge assisted with the production of the children’s book Detective Sugar Spotter – Making Healthy Choices, published in 2018. She has since written her own children’s educational book, Detective Sugar Spotter saves NoDecay the Truth Fairy, published in 2021. The books are available through the charity’s website http://www.familyteethmatters.nz/ People are encouraged to pay it forward by buying a copy for their whānau or their local school library.
“I am overwhelmed to be recognised with this honour,” says Mrs Wallbridge. “I receive this honour on behalf of all those dedicated to reversing this dental crisis, and I hope it will raise awareness of how much still needs to be done in the paediatric oral health sector in Aotearoa New Zealand.”
Since moving to New Zealand in 1990, Mrs Wallbridge’s volunteer service to children’s dentistry has been at a community, national and international level. She and her husband David have owned Rockfield Dental Centre for 14 years, and Greenlane Dental Centre for the 11 years prior, and have kept volunteer work as an important priority in their dental practice. This includes regular trips with Marine Reach charity projects for several weeks at a time in Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, and The Philippines.
“Dental decay is definitely preventable. I am alarmed at what is going on around us, so I decided to help – to do what I could.”
More about Cynthia Wallbridge’s work at www.familyteethmatters.nz/