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New Dental Degree At AUT

A new dental therapy degree launched in Auckland today is expected to have a significant impact in reversing a major decline in oral health of New Zealand children and youth.

Northland currently has the highest rate of tooth decay. Last month, 200 infants were waiting to go to Whangarei Hospital to have their milk teeth removed.

Auckland University of Technology is offering the three-year Bachelor of Health Science in Oral Health degree from February 2002, in response to nationwide demand for qualified dental therapists. The number of dental therapists in this country has fallen from 900 in 1990 to around 550 and the workforce is ageing.

Minister of Health Annette King says she is very concerned at the declining number of dental therapists and welcomes the opportunities the new Oral Health degree will provide for a better dental workforce in the future.

“Also of great concern is the increasing age of the current workforce and the growing wait for dental treatment for children,” Annette King says.

“The Health Professionals Competency Assurance Bill will see dental therapists registered for the first time in the 85 year history of the profession in New Zealand. I believe this will bring new opportunities for dental therapists to provide outstanding service to New Zealanders.”

Waitemata Health has experienced a shortage of dental therapists for several years, which has threatened its ability to maintain an effective dental service. As WHL is the largest employer of dental therapists, this poses a threat to other school dental services nationwide.

“This is an exciting opportunity to play a huge part in reversing the decline in oral health of New Zealand children,” says AUT Dean, Faculty of Health Studies, Professor Max Abbott.

“The BHSc in Oral Health is designed to prepare graduates to fill the growing number of positions that are becoming available in our schools and public health service,” he says.

“Having a programme that is easily accessible to Auckland and Northland students will ensure a greater number of graduates work within these areas where their skills needed the most.”

The dental therapy programme is a major departure from the old ‘dental nurse’ system. The training is longer and leads to a Bachelor of Science degree. Graduates working in the public health service can treat all age groups.

The degree opens up new employment opportunities for New Zealanders including Maori and Pacific Island peoples.

The AUT training, located at its Akoranga Campus on Auckland’s North Shore, makes it more accessible for students living in areas such as Northland.

The location is welcomed by Waitemata Health, which was concerned that the existing dental training at Otago University was geographically inaccessible and unaffordable to many, particularly for Maori and Pacific students and others from northern areas.

The new degree includes on-campus learning as well as off-campus clinical experience.

Ends

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