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We were the first to give women the vote, the first to have state registered nurses in 1902 and, just 19 years’ later, the first to train dental nurses. Today we honour those first 34 trainees who were the precursors of the dental nurses who staffed the ‘murder house’ when many Oilers were at primary school. Quote.

On 8 March 1921 newspapers reported that the first 34 women had been appointed to train as dental nurses for the state-funded School Dental Service (SDS). A world first, the SDS was established to provide New Zealand primary school children with free dental care, in recognition of the appalling condition of New Zealand children?s teeth; it had been found that four out of five schoolchildren were in need of dental intervention. The social policy of the time was also heavily focused on children?s health and wellbeing.

One hundred and twenty applications were received from women wishing to enter the SDS. In April 1921, a temporary training facility opened in Wellington next to Government Buildings and training of the first school dental nurses commenced. Much of the equipment in the temporary facility was used by the Dental Corps during the First World War, and had been retained by the New Zealand Defence Department. The nurses undertook an intensive programme of study, which included learning chemistry and anatomy, dental treatments and extractions. The first school dental nurses graduated in mid-1923.

The upskilling of women to provide dental care in schools was not supported by everyone. Numerous meetings were held around the country and submissions were made to the government opposing the training of women to perform dentist?s work. Opponents viewed the training of dental nurses as less cost- and time-effective than employing already-trained male dentists, and some feared it would lower professional dentistry standards. End quote.

NZ History