Dentists are calling for more to be done to help people who cannot afford treatment, as many are turned away from public dental clinics.
A ONE News investigation has uncovered horror stories about people resorting to desperate measures to cope with painful toothache.
Tevita Mahe keeps a tool box in his shed, but he has brought a whole new meaning to DIY. After being turned away from Middlemore Hospital's emergency dental clinic, his toothache was so bad, he handed his son some pliers.
"After three cans of bourbon I said to my son, 'I'm ready' and he hold them and I closed my eyes, suddenly my son pulled them out," Mahe said.
Money's tight at the Mahe household, but Tevita cannot get a dental grant from Work and Income New Zealand because he has a job.
Dentists say people like him need to be given better access to affordable treatment.
'It is a difficult choice to make to spend money on dentistry, instead of spending money on food, or homes, housing and heat," said Neil Croucher from Oral Health Clinical Leadership Network Group.
The Government says it already spends $150 million a year on free dental care for everyone aged under 18.
For everybody else, there is the option of emergency dental clinics at public hospitals around the country.
But public dental clinics lack the funding to offer permanent fillings. They can only provide pain relief or tooth extraction.
At Middlemore Hospital, the clinic is only open in the morning, and they only take ten people a day.
ONE News visited Middlemore's clinic and spoke to a women in considerable pain.
She said her relatives go back to the islands and get treatment for free.
"I don't want to get rid of my teeth. I want to keep my teeth but I don't have other choices because I don't want to go back to the islands. I want to stay with my family," she said.
"I'm always wondering to myself why teeth are very expensive here in New Zealand. They said to me it was about $800."
An independent survey of the public dental service is underway now, focusing on access for high need groups.
Watch ONE News tonight at 6pm for an exclusive report by Charlotte Whale who has been been investigating dental care in New Zealand.