A Whangārei toddler with rotten teeth and a painful abscess was sent home to wait it out for five months with painkillers and antibiotics because of a huge waiting list for treatment.
And Ivy Dyas's case is not unusual, with long waiting lists for children across much of the country.
In Auckland alone, the number of children waiting to see a specialist or to have surgery for mostly serious dental problems had grown 200 to 2700 since the end of last year.
Ivy's mother, Tari Williams, said her almost 2-year-old had been in pain every day even if she could not express it in words.
"Sometimes she'll cry when she puts certain things in her mouth or if she doesn't place it right and bites [it will hurt].
"She'll hold her face sometimes and go, 'Oh no, oh no,' and look at me as if to say, 'Help, Mum, my mouth is really sore'."
Ivy has a condition which means her teeth are susceptible to decay.
Ms Williams took her to the dental nurse three times last year before being referred to a hospital specialist but was told it would be at least a five month wait for treatment.
Her teeth were already rotten and, that day, developed an abscess.
They told Ms Williams to treat Ivy with paracetamol, and if Ivy got abscess to use antibiotics.
Ms Williams said after trying hospitals in Auckland, which were just as stretched, Ms Williams decided to seek private treatment in Auckland which cost $4700, something she could only do because Ivy's grandad paid.
She worried about children whose families did not have that option.
"How are these kids meant to go to school and learn, meant to function daily when they're walking round in pain and with infection?"
Last week, Ivy finally had treatment at Kidz Teeth in Auckland, going under general anaesthetic to have her front four teeth removed and caps put on her molars.
Ms Williams said Ivy was a bit tentative after her surgery.
Kidz Teeth specialist paediatric dentist Nina Vasan said like many children on the waiting list, Ivy's treatment was more drastic because the long wait meant her teeth had become worse.
Sometimes the situation was so bad children would end up in the emergency department, Ms Vasan said.
"It's what we call a snatch list. About fifteen kids in a morning session just coming in to have one or two teeth pulled out."
Ministry of Health figures show waits of several months for treatment in Hawke's Bay, Northland, Auckland and Taranaki.
That did not include the wait to see a specialist in the first place.
The Northland DHB was not available for comment.
Auckland Regional Hospital and Specialist Dentistry service said it was facing increasing pressure from the growing population and was working on solutions including weekend clinics and more resources.
By Rowan Quinn