After years of being neglected, Anthony Thompson's teeth came back to bite him.

It's a familiar tale: one that starts with dodging the school dental nurse and ends in a $6500 dentist's bill.

"We did have a dental nurse at school when I was young, but they came around once every six or eight months, and if you weren't at school on the day, you'd actually miss out," Mr Thompson says.

"In my teens, I didn't worry about teeth, oral health, oral hygiene. I'm regretting it now."

Sporadic trips to the dentist as an adult followed. In his thirties, after a wisdom tooth played up, his dentist told him he had other problems with his teeth and needed to get them fixed.

Unable to afford the cost, he put  it off until a few years later when his income had gone up.

Cue the $6500 bill, still being paid off now in weekly instalments. He needed a bridge to replace some missing teeth, others needed to be removed and some had to be re-formed.

Antony ThompsonAntony Thompson Photo: Supplied
"It's almost like a retrofit, it's close to the price of a small car to get your teeth done," he says. "But you've got to bite the bullet."

Many don't though.

Health Ministry figures for the year ended June 2016 show only 47.5 percent of all people over 15 visited a dental health worker in the previous year.

That figure has been dropping over the years, down from 51.5 percent in the year ended June 2007.

The numbers are even worse for Māori and Pasifika adults - about two thirds did not see a dental worker.

Anthony Thompson says cost is the main reason many people he knows aren't going to the dentist.

"A lot of whānau that I know are putting food on their tables, clothes on their backs and a roof over their head first, before they are worrying about anything else."

Read the full story below.

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