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Dental clinics - 'the murder house'?

Dental Drill
Dental Drill 1920s, Amalgamated Dental Co Ltd. Gift of the Wellington School Dental Service Training School, Department of Health, 1994. Te Papa

By 1947, all New Zealand children up to the age of 16 received free dental care. This Labour Government policy extended the dental nurse scheme initiated by the Reform Government in 1921 – a world first.

In the earliest dental clinics, children would have encountered a foot-operated treadle drill like this. All dental nurses were women – they were cheaper to pay, and considered more suited to dealing with children.

By the post-World War II baby boom, more than 450 schools had a dental clinic. This didn't please some children, who dreaded a trip to 'the murder house', as they called it.

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