Story: Dental care
Page 5 – Consolidation and challenges: 1950s to 1970s
A private professional service
Having proven their worth in wartime, raised their professional status and income and maintained a private-sector monopoly on the treatment of adult teeth, dentists consolidated control of their industry in the 1950s.
By the mid-1960s all dentists were members of the New Zealand Dental Association (NZDA). The Dental Act 1963 finally brought dental technicians under Dental Council control and eliminated advertising for dentists. However, subsequent attempts to standardise training and registration in 1966 and 1968 faltered.
As a result of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Social Security in 1969–72 dentists were authorised to recommend people for sickness benefits, write prescriptions and have laboratory work paid for by the state.
A busy man
John Walsh was a vigorous and determined dean of the faculty of dentistry at the University of Otago from 1946 to 1971. He restructured the school, oversaw the building of a new Dunedin dental school in 1961, edited the New Zealand Dental Journal, designed an early (and never made) version of the high-speed dental drill, wrote three books on dentistry, and worked hard to raise awareness of dental health and make false teeth unfashionable. In August 2001 the university’s dental-school building was named the Walsh Building in his honour.
Research, specialisation and new technology
After 1946, under the vigorous leadership of the new dean, Professor John Walsh, the Otago University dental school gained an international reputation. Walsh increased emphasis on ethics, patient service and graduate research into diet and dental health. He also promoted specialisation in orthodontics (correction of teeth), gum disease, prosthodontics (the restoration and replacement of teeth), dentistry for children and dental anaesthesia.
New technology, including high-speed drills, X-rays, improved pain relief and operating chairs that allowed the dentist to sit down, helped improve the effectiveness of chair-side dentistry.
However, professional, academic and technological advancement was not matched by improvement in adult oral health. A national survey of adult oral health and attitudes to dentistry in 1976 documented the nation’s poor dental health.
Cost, fear of pain and socio-economic status were identified as barriers for adults in accessing dental care. Some groups, such as Auckland’s Pacific community, received very little care. Suggested solutions such as greater use of dental hygienists were rejected by the NZDA, who were worried about competition and erosion of standards.
In the early 2000s the dental health of New Zealanders remained closely related to their socio-economic status and ethnicity.