There was a time in the Northern Territory, when schools were well served by dental therapists.

Many primary urban schools had a dental clinic which was built when schools were constructed. In some cases clinics were added after the initial building of the school.

Dental therapists and their assistants generally supported three or four schools in an area. They worked on rotation from school to school, checking children for tooth decay and carrying out remedial work. While therapists were able to undertake minor corrective work, major jobs were held over until the arrival of a dentist.

The significant amount of work was done by dental staff on education and therefore prevention based on students awareness of tooth care and looking after their teeth.

This program worked extremely well. It was responsible for what was, overall, good dental health in our schools.

When indigenous students came to town and then roll temporarily in schools, attention to their dental needs became a very high priority. Maintenance of careful records ensured that everything was recorded and care up to date.

From time to time dental staff would go out into communities providing on-site attention and education.

But …. Guess what!

Like many of the good schemes in place in the Northern Territory supporting Education in our schools, The system changed.

All of a sudden dental therapists and assistants became hard to recruit. (I suspect it was the salaries issue and costs associated with staff employment.


Dental clinics in primary schools began to reduce in number. Fewer staff meant a greater number of schools to be covered by them and their frequency of visits to dental clinics became almost ad hoc. Visits to communities went by the board.

The Northern Territory Principals Association and other organisations tried hard to have clinics kept open and services being reduced reinstated. That never worked out.

These days I doubt very much if there are any dental clinics left in schools being serviced by staff specifically appointed to those jobs. I do know the dental health has become dental ill-health among young people particularly in the remote areas but also in urban situations.

This was just another service providing excellently in past years that has gone by the board.

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