Story: Dental care
Page 2 – Professional dentistry
Professionals versus practitioners
In the late 19th century the number of practising dentists steadily increased, as did the populations and areas they covered. Rail and motor cars allowed greater mobility, and rural practices were established.
Some dentists strove to professionalise and upgrade their status, while others supported a wider definition of who could practise and how to run their businesses.
The Dentists Act 1880 introduced the registration of dentists and identified the training and qualifications required for registration. The New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA) was set up in 1905 to represent registered dentists, and began publishing the New Zealand Dental Journal. Over half of practising dentists joined the new association.
Non-aligned dentists and dental mechanics contested what they saw as restrictive registration, and the need for further training, as well as constraints on the advertising of dental services. Public and political opposition to monopolies aided their cause and standards were lowered to allow registration of some previously excluded dentists and apprentices. It was not until 1937 that the New Zealand Dental Council was set up to enforce standards of professional practice.
Your place or mine?
Debate over where to locate the nation’s only dental school was resolved in 1904, when Premier Richard Seddon was convinced by a deputation of Dunedin dentists that the city’s colder climate was more conducive to study. By 1923 a bigger school was needed. Auckland University and city politicians wanted it in Auckland, but it was decided to build a larger school in Dunedin. The new school was opened in Great King Street in 1926. In 2010 Dunedin remained the home of New Zealand’s principal dental school, whose most recent premises were built in 1961, adjacent to the medical school.
Otago Dental School
The Dentists Act 1904 assigned oversight of dental training to the University of New Zealand. A new dental school opened at Otago University in 1908 under Dr Henry Pickerill, who became an eminent plastic surgeon. After initial success, the dental school struggled to attract students. None entered training in 1917, prompting the introduction of bonded bursaries, which increased the number of students to 103 in 1923.
Public provision of dental care
As dentists worked to gain professional cohesion they also confronted the need for state involvement in dental health.
The NZDA lobbied the government for action on children’s oral health, and conducted inspections of schoolchildren’s teeth. In 1908, 90% of children were found to have ‘defective teeth’. The Reform government of 1912 supported inspection of schoolchildren’s teeth. For Dr Truby King, the founder of the Plunket Society, decayed teeth indicated societal decay.
The NZDA, anxious to maintain autonomy and control, as well as fulfil their community obligations, accepted the need for limited state funding for the inspection of children’s teeth, and the setting up of dental departments in public hospitals in the main centres to treat those who could not afford to pay private dentists.