In 100 years of dental services in New Zealand schools, the primitive equipment has disappeared but the desire to help improve kids' teeth hasn't changed.
The New Zealand School Dental Service nurses were "pioneers" who helped raise the standard of children's dental health when it was in a bad state, former dental nurse/therapist Liz Macaulay says.
Hawke's Bay recently celebrated 100 years of the service, which was founded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Hunter in 1921.
According to Te Ara encyclopaedia, Hunter pivoted from the New Zealand Dental Corps operations and Department of Health dental hygiene division.
Men were trained for a shorter period of time than male dentists to become auxiliaries known as dental nurses.
One of the first purpose-built dental clinics constructed in the 1920s was built near Clive Square in Napier, but was destroyed in the 1931 earthquake Macaulay said.
Macaulay said the young women who were the first school dental nurses were "real pioneers".
They would sometimes travel to remote areas, taking bags of their equipment with them and the first ones would have to work in places like school staff rooms or halls, she said.
Equipment at the beginning would have been "really primitive", including wooden chairs, limited pain relief, and drills that were not as good as today. These days the school dental service has the same equipment as private dental clinics and the working conditions of the women have "improved considerably".
The first dental nurses' work was focused on controlling dental disease, and there would have been a lot of fillings and extractions, she said.
Macaulay graduated from the training course in 1959 and began working on her own in a clinic in Taupō.
"It was really enjoyable because you were really part of the school staff even though you were employed by the Department of Health."
She then worked in a number of clinics in Hawke's Bay, her home region, and has seen and been part of the changes in care practice and equipment in her 46 years of service.
In the late 70s in particular, there was a big change to a focus on prevention of dental decay including education around dental hygiene and the type of treatment received. Macaulay said fluoride had a big impact on dental decay reduction.
"Children's teeth generally have improved remarkably, but there are still those who face inequalities in so many things, not just dental, but in general health.
"You had an aim of reducing the number of fillings that children received and to improve the dental health and it was reached because the whole emphasis changed to prevention."
There was also a change of name from dental nurse to dental therapist, to better reflect the nature of the work.
"The school dental service has changed significantly since its inception but the overall goal of improving child oral health and ultimately the whole population's health has not changed."
On Sunday, April 18, 125 retired and practising dental nurses/therapists gathered at the Havelock North Function Centre to celebrate 100 years of the service.