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Mobile Dental Clinic Launched - Speech

Mobile Dental Clinic Launched

Hutt Valley Health

Wednesday, April 12, 2000

New Service Praised



Thank you very much for inviting me here today, and for the welcome I have received.

The launch of an innovative new health service is always a happy occasion, and the arrival of the first of four new mobile dental caravans certainly fits into that category.

But before I launch the new and exciting, I hope I can be excused a little nostalgia today.

First of all, a little personal nostalgia. As you all know, the new mobile dental caravans are replacing the service offered until last year at the children's dental clinic at the top end of Willis Street. For 60 years school dental nurses, or dental therapists as they are now called, were trained at the Willis Street clinic. Children from Kilbirnie through the central city as far north as Churton Park attended the clinic and annexes in Tinakori Road and Johnsonville.

For many years buses went out to schools and in groups of children for examinations and dental treatment.

The Willis Street clinic was a happy part of my personal life for three years, firstly for postgraduate studies for a year, and then as a tutor for two years.

The clinic was also of special significance to Labour Party politicians. The clinic was planned and built by the first Labour Government, and the foundation stone was laid by the first Labour Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage. So it is with some personal humbleness I am following in his footsteps today by launching the successor to a service he was so proud of.

Over the years the people who worked in the clinic shared much affection for the place. I must say some of the early child patients probably didn't always feel quite the same way. In the early years of its history New Zealand children were suffering the painful ravages of dental decay, and it was that pain, not any lack of sympathy or skill on the part of the staff, that made children worried about their visits.

Fortunately, however, in recent years it has been a different story. The dental health of Wellington children has improved markedly with the early introduction of fluoride to the water supply, and the almost universal use of fluoride toothpaste. Going to the dentist is now a far more enjoyable experience. I am forced to wonder at the logic of those who now want to step back from fluoridisation.

The training of dental therapists has undergone a change of thinking in the last decade. In 1990 responsibility for training shifted from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Education, with Wellington Polytechnic assuming the role of training the students and providing dental care at the Willis Street clinic. There were some notable achievements, including upgrading the curriculum and obtaining a more diverse range of students, but the school became vulnerable to closure because the number of children attending the clinic declined from its heyday.

Some dental educators began promoting the advantage of training all members of the dental care team together, and in 1999 dental therapy students started the first year of their course, along with dental hygienists and dentists, in Otago. The last students graduated from Willis Street in 1999, and the first will graduate from Otago this year.

So that's a little history, in which I shared a small part. In mid-1999 Hutt Valley Health, already providing a regional service for the rest of the greater Wellington area, agreed to take responsibility for children left without a service when the clinic closed. There were two choices ---- to build centralised clinics at a few sites, or to go to the 40 or so schools with a mobile service. I am really pleased the latter choice won the day.

There have been a number of developments, particularly in the North Island, in recent years in terms of mobile dental services. Waikato and Northland have both designed and built motorised clinics. Eastern Bay of Plenty has a new motorised clinic for one operator, and some health authorities are looking to provide care for family members as well as children. That concept fits well into the community-focused health environment this Government wishes to promote.

The Hutt Valley clinics, designed for a dental therapist/dental assistant team, are similar to those in Rotorua and Tauranga. They are towable caravans like those people live in. I can give you some technical details if you like. They are 6.5 metres long, 2.5 metres wide, weigh 3000 kg, and are constructed on a welded steel chassis with dual axles. The floors are plywood covered in sealed vinyl, and the walls and roof are painted steel foam sandwich panels. That's the end of the technical section of this address.

More importantly, from a practical dental therapy point of view, the caravans have a small waiting room for privacy and protection from the weather, and a main clinic room with areas for clinical treatment, cleaning, sterilisation and administrative space. The caravans have good insulation, and are also air-conditioned for patient and staff comfort.

The equipment is also of a high standard. The prototype caravan I'm launching today is equipped with a motorised dental chair which carries the instrument tray, and light and high volume suction. There is a wall-mounted xray machine for each caravan, and film can be processed on the spot or sent for central processing. Ultrasonic instrument cleaners and autoclaves are included for sterilisation. Modern dental material mixers and curing lights for filling materials are also available.

All in all, it is a far cry from the days when Michael Joseph Savage
laid the foundation stone for the Willis Street clinic.

It is appropriate the Community Dental Service has decided to use Maori names for the caravans, which are named after ancient Pa sites in the areas in which they will operate.

The first caravan being launched today is Uruhau, and will work in suburbs from Ridgway in the south to Wadestown in the north. The three caravans to come, two at the end of this month, and one at the end of May, will be called Mataki-Hai-Painga for central Wellington, Oruaiti for South Wellington, and Te Moana a Kura for Karori. Johnsonville will be served by a different system. An old dental clinic there has received a major upgrade, and has been re-equipped to the same standards as the caravans.

So now it is my honour to wish the first caravan, Uruhau, well on what I am sure will be a long and successful journey providing high-quality dental care for thousands of children over the years. I am sure Michael Joseph Savage voiced similar sentiments when he launched the Willis Street Clinic all those years ago.

Congratulations to everyone who has been involved in bringing this excellent new community service to fruition. I am proud now to feel part of the future of dental therapy as well as being part of the past. Thank you for inviting me to cut this special ribbon.


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