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Dental Therapists Notch-up 75 Years’ Service Between Them Years On The Job

3 November 2022

Dental Therapists Kirsty Daly and Debbie Papuni have treated thousands of Hawke’s Bay children during their careers and each smile they receive is equally special.

Between them, the pair have notched up 75 years of experience, with Kirsty having worked for 35 years and Debbie 40.

“I just love it,” Kirsty says. “We are children’s first dental experience in a lifetime of dentistry work so it’s our job to make sure they start off on the right track.”

It is National Oral Health Day tomorrow (Friday). Te Whatu Ora Hawke’s Bay has 17 Dental Therapists who work out of six mobile dental units and nine dental hubs, treating about 32,000 children enrolled in the free service which goes up to Year 8.

Kirsty currently works in the Napier mobile dental unit while Debbie is based at the Havelock North hub at Havelock North Intermediate. However, between them, they’ve probably worked in every school in the region.

“The list of schools I’ve worked in will take up your piece of paper,” Debbie laughs.

Kirsty says she enjoys working in the mobile dental units as they’re on-site at a school.

“It’s like working the ‘old way’ in the school but with state-of-the-art equipment and the support of a dental assistant.”

When Kirsty and Debbie started their careers in the 1980s they were sole charge of a school clinic or two.

“On top of treating the children, we made the appointments, answered the phone, sterilised the equipment, and did the cleaning. We were part of the school community,” Kirsty says.

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And before the arrival of the mobile dental units, they used a kitted-out caravan that would visit the rural schools.

Both women chose dental therapy as a career in their final year of high school.

Kirsty looked into nursing and teaching and decided dental therapy had the best bits of both while Debbie wanted to work with children.

“You really have to enjoy working with children because it’s all about patient management, engaging with the parents and looking after the children’s dental needs. There’s something special about each child and it’s always great surprising the parents with how smoothly the treatment goes.

“Working on-site at a school also allows you to form good relationships with the children. When I walk into a classroom the teachers are still surprised when the children flock around me hoping it’s their turn to come to the dental clinic.”

It’s clear the therapists are popular, with plenty of children’s artwork adorning the clinics, they’re also memorable as they sometimes get stopped in the street by former patients.

“Before I had children I worked in Havelock North and I still get “Hello Nurse Kirsty” from former patients I see in town, who often have children of their own now. It’s always lovely to be remembered,” Kirsty says.

“That’s why we still do it, we both love the kids, love the families, and get a real buzz out of seeing our children develop into confident lifelong patients. And we wouldn’t be able to do it without the support from our dental assistants,” Debbie says.

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