It’s An Honour: Addressing Our Paediatric Dental Health Crisis

“There were families sharing toothbrushes which horrified
me, so I decided to do what I could.”

Dental Hygienist Cynthia Wallbridge has been appointed as a
Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s
Birthday and Jubilee Platinum Honours, in recognition of her
services to dental health and education.

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, 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

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

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,
in 2021. The books are available through the charity’s
People are encouraged to pay it forward by buying a copy for
their whānau or their local school

“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.”

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.

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


Family Teeth Matters is a group of
dentists, hygienists, psychologists, dental therapists and
professionals committed to improving the dental health of
children. Cynthia Wallbridge is the founder and spokesperson
and has over 30 years experience in Dental Health. Cynthia
was the New Zealand representative to the International
Federation of Dental Hygienists and has a diploma in Dental


Mercy Ships is an
international faith-based organization that operates
hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare
services, medical capacity building, and health system
strengthening to those with little access to safe surgical
care. Since 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 55
countries, with the last three decades focused entirely on
partnering with African nations. Each year, volunteer
professionals from over 60 countries serve on board the
world’s two largest non-governmental hospital ships, the
Africa Mercy® and the Global Mercy™.
Professionals such as surgeons, dentists, nurses, health
trainers, cooks, and engineers dedicate their time and
skills to the cause.

Mercy Ships has offices in 16
countries including New Zealand and an Africa

For more information, visit
and follow @MercyShipsNZ on social

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