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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




The New Zealander has a bad record in regard to dental health, but whether this is due to some quality of the soil or water, or to faulty food habits, or merely to indifference regarding the care of the teeth, no one can say. At least it is not for lack of skilled dental services, as the standard of dentistry practised in New Zealand is unquestionably a high one. The amount of dental ill health found among recruits enlisted for military service in the 1914–18 War called for some action, and a School Dental Service was set up in the Department of Education and transferred to the Department of Health in 1921.

Professional Training

The first attempt at control of the practice of dentistry in New Zealand was in 1880 when the first Dentists Act was passed. This Act introduced registration of dentists, and specified the requirements as to training and qualifications necessary for registration. It also empowered the Senate of the University of New Zealand to appoint examiners to decide whether or not certain persons practising dentistry were entitled to be registered. This was followed by the Dentists Act 1904 which made provision for dental training in New Zealand. The first Dental School was opened in Dunedin in 1908 and had provision for 20 to 25 students. The cost of the building was largely met by donations from members of the dental profession, and the Government subsidy seems to have been provided somewhat reluctantly. During the next 10 years the number of dental students was small until steps were taken to encourage potential students by the provision of dental bursaries. This had the desired effect, and by 1923 the school was quite inadequate for the numbers offering, and a new Dental School to accommodate 60 students was opened in 1926. Finally, in 1957 the building of a third Dental School, much larger and more adequately equipped, was commenced, and this building was completed and opened on 4 March 1961. The new school has accommodation for the training of 240 dental students (60 in each of the four professional years of the course).

The first Dean of the Dental Faculty and Director of the Dental School was the late Dr H. P. Pickerill who achieved distinction as a plastic surgeon. He was followed by Dr R. Bevan Dodds (1927–45), and the present Dean is Sir John Walsh, K.B.E.

An amending Act of 1921 made it an offence for any unregistered person to practise dentistry, and a third Dentists Act passed in 1936 provided for the establishment of a Dental Council having disciplinary powers. The legislation was re-enacted in the Dental Act of 1963.

Dental Associations and Societies

The New Zealand Dental Association watches over the general interests of members, and the ethical standards of the profession, and is governed by an Executive Council. It publishes a quarterly Journal which has existed since the early years of the century. There is also a Council on Dental Health Education. Affiliated with the New Zealand Dental Association are the following professional societies: the New Zealand Society of Dentistry for Children, the New Zealand Society of Periodontology, and the New Zealand Orthodontic Society.

The School Dental Service

The School Dental Service in New Zealand is unique in that it has successfully accomplished its task in a manner never before attempted, and one that was generally considered to be impracticable. For these reasons the Service for many years created no interest overseas – it was in fact ignored. In recent years, however, the success achieved has brought international recognition, and similar services have been organised in several other countries. The originator of the Service was Colonel (Sir) Thomas A. Hunter, Director of the New Zealand Army Dental Service in the 1914–18 War. In 1921 he proposed to select suitable young women, and to train them in a two-year course to provide an adequate service of preventive dentistry to school children. The dental profession was at first sceptical, but finally gave its approval, and has since then given full support to the undertaking.

The first Dental Nurses School was established in Wellington in 1921, with 35 students. The yearly intake of new students fluctuated around this figure, and by 1930 there were 93 dental nurses working in 147 treatment centres, and 60,289 children (approximately half the primary-school pupils in the Dominion) were receiving regular dental treatment. The onset of the financial depression in 1930 caused the Government to suspend recruitment, and for five years the rate of expansion was greatly curtailed. After 1935 a policy of rapid expansion was adopted. An auxiliary school was established in Wellington and the original school was replaced by a larger modern building. The Service continued to grow but in the post-war years staffing difficulties became acute, as the high birthrate rapidly increased the numbers of children needing dental care, while the dental nurses were recruited from the generation born during the depression of the thirties when the birthrate reached a very low level. Nevertheless by 1950 there were 226,350 children receiving dental treatment, including many pre-school children. At the end of 1951 a second school for dental nurses was opened at Auckland, followed by a third in Christchurch in 1956. One purpose of the new school was to tap a further supply of potential students who were unwilling or unable to come to Wellington for training.

In the post-war years the work of the Service began to attract overseas interest, and eminent dentists from other countries came to study it at first hand. In addition, several Asian countries began to send student dental nurses for training in this country.

The quality of the work of the school dental nurses has been commented on by visiting dentists, some of whom came prepared to criticise. They have, however, been unanimous in their praise of the quality of the work done by the nurses. In addition to the dental treatment given, the dental nurses are very active in dental health education, and much time is devoted to this valuable work.

The growth of the School Dental Service over the years is shown in the following table:

Year Dental Clinics Dental Nurses Children Treated Total Operations
1927 47 44 19,325 201,002
1937 252 161 89,803 725,069
1947 456 423 226,798 1,578,605
1957 783 700 321,219 2,476,473
1964 1,075 984 431,941 3,517,097
1965 1,116 1,045 456,049 3,603,988

Dental Services for Adolescents

Dental benefits for adolescents became available in 1947 under the provisions of the Social Security Act 1938, and provide for continuity of dental treatment after a child leaves the primary school and up to the age of 16. Treatment is given by dentists in private practice working under contract, and by the larger hospital boards. Each enrolled child is seen at six-monthly intervals and given any treatment necessary. In 1965 there were 179,109 children receiving this benefit.


Francis Sydney Maclean M.B., B.CHIR., M.D.(CAMB.), M.R.C.S.(ENG.), L.R.C.P.(LOND.), formerly Director of Public Hygiene, Department of Health.Geoffrey Blake-Palmer, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., D.P.M., L.D.S., R.C.S., L.R.C.S., Director, Division of Mental Health, Department of Health, Wellington.Francis Sydney Maclean M.B., B.CHIR., M.D.(CAMB.), M.R.C.S.(ENG.), L.R.C.P.(LOND.), formerly Director of Public Hygiene, Department of Health.Francis Sydney Maclean M.B., B.CHIR., M.D.(CAMB.), M.R.C.S.(ENG.), L.R.C.P.(LOND.), formerly Director of Public Hygiene, Department of Health.