It’s An Honour: Responding to Our Pediatric Dental Health Crisis


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

Auckland dental hygienist Cynthia Wallbridge has been made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit on the Queen’s Birthday and Platinum Jubilee in recognition of her services to health and dental education.

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 preschoolers with decayed teeth. It was worse than I thought. I checked my nearby school who confirmed that the students ate and drank large amounts of sugar.The school also told me that there were families who shared toothbrushes, which horrified me.

The goal of Family Teeth Matters is to reduce the number of cavities and extractions experienced by our tamariki, by building more oral health education at the “top of the cliff”. The caries rate for children under five in greater Auckland, where the charity works, has risen to 72%. There has been a sharp increase in the number of hospitalized children requiring general anesthesia to have multiple teeth pulled. “There are now 8,600 children going through this horrible process every year,” says Ms Wallbridge.

Ms Wallbridge has developed and presented the Detective Sugar Spotter educational program to over 12,000 schoolchildren in Auckland, teaching them and their families about wise food choices and how to take care of their teeth. Mrs. Wallbridge presents dressed as a monkey, Detective Sugar Spotter, assisted by No Decay the Truth Fairy. They quiz kids and their parents about the amount of added sugar in different types of foods and sing jingles to help kids and their families remember key oral health facts. Toothbrushes and free bottles of water are distributed. Ms Wallbridge and her husband David were interviewed by Hilary Barry of Seven Sharp

The Wallbridges hope to expand the dental charity to collaborate with others working with vulnerable children across the country. “Tooth decay, pain and misery are overwhelming for children everywhere,” she explains.

Ms Wallbridge helped produce the children’s book Sugar Spotter Detective – Making Healthy Choices, published in 2018. She has since written her own educational children’s book, Detective Sugar Spotter saves NoDecay the Truth Fairy, published in 2021. The books are available on the charity’s website People are encouraged to pay it forward by purchasing a copy for their whānau or their local school library.

“I am overwhelmed to be recognized with this honour,” Ms Wallbridge said. “I receive this honor on behalf of all who are dedicated to reversing this dental crisis, and I hope it will raise awareness of all that remains to be done in the pediatric oral health sector in Aotearoa New Zealand. .”

Her passion for making dental care accessible to the most vulnerable began in 1985, when Ms. Wallbridge volunteered for five years with the dental team on the hospital ship Mercy Ships.
Anastasia. She helped meet urgent oral health issues for people living in extreme poverty in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. On board, she met her Kiwi husband, dentist and fellow volunteer David.

Since moving to New Zealand in 1990, Ms. Wallbridge’s voluntary service in pediatric dentistry has taken place at community, national and international levels. She and her husband David have owned Rockfield Dental Center for 14 years and Greenlane Dental Center for 11 years, and have made volunteerism an important priority in their dental practice. This includes regular trips with Marine Reach charity projects for several weeks to both Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.

“Tooth decay is definitely preventable. I am alarmed by what is happening around us, so I decided to help – to do what I could.


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 of experience in dental health. Cynthia was the New Zealand representative to the International Federation of Dental Hygienists and holds a Diploma in Dental Therapy.


Mercy Ships is an international faith-based organization that operates hospital ships to provide world-class free 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 over 55 countries, with the past three decades entirely focused on partnering with African nations. Each year, volunteer professionals from more than 60 countries serve aboard 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 volunteer their time and skills to the cause.

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

For more information, visit and follow @MercyShipsNZ on social media.

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