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Waitara dentist inspiring other rangatahi Māori to get into the profession

A young Māori dentist is not only encouraging Māori to go to the dentist, but she's inspiring other rangatahi to get into the profession too.

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Te Waikapoata Tamati says Māori often arrive at the clinic "petrified" but she's striving to make the dentist a safe place for everyone. Source: Breakfast

There are high rates of poor oral health among Māori and Te Waikapoata Tamati told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning poeple often arrive at the clinic "petrified".

But Tamati is striving to make the dentist as welcoming as possible for everyone.

She's started practicing in Waitara, where she saw need, and also practices in New Plymouth.

Now Tamati is making it her mission to create pathways for rangatahi Māori to get into dentistry, recently taking a Year 11 student under her wing.

"I thought up a little initiate on how could I get someone in just to get some work experience and potentially start a pathway just as I had when I first started out."

Students at a local high school went through a job application and interview process before the teenager was selected.

"She's still learning the ropes,"Tamati said. "I told her that learning dentistry is like learning another language so we're really excited to have her on and potentially go down the line of dentistry."

But Tamati, with her boss willing, wants to expand with more opportunities for other young people.

"There's not enough Māori in the workforce so initiates like this are amazing to get more into the profession and also starting them from a young age, so this Year 11 girl - paving the way for her and then that continued support when they go down to university is vital."

Tamati herself was just one of nine Māori in her 80-strong course.

But she also wants to stop the problem of poor oral health in Māori at it's root.

Tamati said there needs to be more education, with many chronic dental conditions being "completely preventable".

"If we can just get some education behind dental diseases then we can definitely reduce and have better outcomes for oral hygiene and oral health.

"I turn up to work every day and I absolutely am so excited to work with people, work with my colleagues and just helping people, so it's a really rewarding job."