Otago University & Dental School

otago uni bldg1953 saw my first year at the Dental School. The building was old and was to be replaced in the late 50’s with a state of the art complex. The arrival of Professor John Patrick Walsh in 1946 was a big plus for the school, and he retired in 1971–with his innovative ideas and to put it in a nutshell, his “Gusto”. A Man for all Seasons. Later he was to be seen on a regular Telvision programme–basically on general knowledge. And current affairs.

The subjects for the second year were–Anatomy–mainly of the head and neck–Physiology and Biochemistry at the Medical School–and Dental Anatomy (including tooth carving)–Dental Pathology in these two subjects histology was very important and Dental Materials (Technology) , all at the Dental School. This was all very absorbing and interesting and not boring in the least. Tooth carving was of necessity very practical. Our teacher was a perfectionist and only the very best would do. The teeth were carved out of wax–and one of every variety of tooth was carved over the year –from incisor through to the molar. Anatomy was a bit of a culture shock for a start. If the cadaver was too fat you were in all sorts of trouble in the process of dissection,as it could be very hard to identify a lot of the structures that you were interested in–interesting though –was Anatomy. We did basic Physiology and Biochemistry which helped to round of the structure of the human body. Dental Mechanics, in the first year was to get used to the handling and structure of Dental Materials such as Calcium Sulphate (Plaster of Paris)–metals—acrylic etc.

Study is a great part of the life of any student and many hours a night and at the weekends was the order of the day. These times were often interspersed with sessions of Contract Bridge. In the winter I played Rugby Union for the Dental Mining team. There was no practice during the week so we were not a crash hot team. But we did manage to win a few games against the lower sides in the competition. This rugby went on for four years.

The third year saw us treating patients for the first time — this was in dental prosthetics– Winston Craddock was the Professor. Of course the patients were of the older age group-and this made life a bit easier, as the introduction to “The Mouth ” was more communicative. Without teeth of course. One old codger gave me a bottle of Scotch. The dentures must have fitted !! We made the dentures from the impression stage to the setup and the final finish. These days there is more accent on the Dental Prosthetist rather than the Dentist to fabricate aand fit dentures. Other subjects were General Pathology –at the Medical School. We had to see a number of Post Mortems over the year–one of our girl students had special dispensation not to attend as it was too much for her !! Oral Surgery was on the agenda for the third year, but mainly lectures.

At the weekends there were innumerable parties, at the digs and flats of the students. And of course a great time was had by all. There were times when Aussie and English cricket and Rugby teams came to Dunedin and there was great ruptions in the city. Of course all the girls were available.

Fourth year and the introduction to Conservative Dentistry–“Fillings”–Professor J. LeB. Warren was the head of the department, and a nicer man you would never meet– — This started of with working on phantom heads. The orientation here took a while. The “heads” were wooden and the cheeks were rubber there was no tongue. We had some left handed students who had to get used to using the righthand mode–they did very well. At this stage I should mention that we had two girl student in our class and I think they both in later times became to be in the administrative cycle of the dental programme. One was Betty Robbins who became a friend , after a few stumbles at the start. The standard filling materials were very basic compared to today–Silver and Copper amalgam and Gold, for posterior teeth –Silicate cement and Gold for anterior teeth–Silicate restorations could best be described as temporary and had to be replaced every so often–hence the uses of gold for anterior teeth which of course was far more permanent. Silver amalgam was mixed in a mortar and pestle. Silicates were also mixed by hand-powder and liquid. Copper amalgam was mixed over a flame-extremely dangerous as fumes of mercury could be inhaled — it is definitely not allowed today. And I believe copper amalgam has not in been supply for many years. Of course we started off with very basic fillings but at the end of the year we had become quite proficient in the many surface restorations. The number of surfaces could go up to five-this was in affect an amalgam crown. Pins for retention, in teeth – had not been developed when I was a student–but along with the airotor became available in the first years after I graduated. Both, a revolution in dentistry–especially the airotor. This remarkable innovation, was developed by Sir John Walsh–along with others. Freely rotating an airotor can “Do” over 250,000 rpm–but they have a low torque and can not be leant on. The cord driven handpiece would be up against it to do 15,000 rpm. Then there was the foot pedal “Motor”–hard work at each end of the “Drill” The poor kids as patients in the NZ Dental Scheme–where I taught for three years after qualifying, as well as a position at the Mt. Eden Gaol (2 days a week)–in Auckland. Copper amalgam fillings and a foot driven drill. Not the ideal way to practice dentistry–but many deciduous teeth were saved in this manner–avoiding much pain, and orthodontic problems in the future.

Then there was the first extraction, under local aneathetic. Of course we were all nervous for a start. Basic general anaethesia was taught. But was discontinued while we were at the Dental School. Ethyl Chloride–Ether–Nitrous oxide — dangerous to say the least. When we did our first full mouth clearance it was done at the General Hospital. This was done under Sodium Pentothal induction followed by nitrous oxide and oxygen and of course a nasal or oral tube was used–well packed –and of course suction.

There was an introduction to Orthodontics. The department was run by Dr. Gresham as there was no “Chair” Gresham was not a Professor. Some removal appliance Ortho was carried but it was very basic. And Periodontics was a part of Oral Surgery. There was no department of Endodontics, but Endo on anteriors was a part of Conservative in general–and posterior endodontia was unheard of. At the end of the Conservative course there was a medal to be won for the best student operator–I was pipped out of this by a great friend of mine –Jack West.

Children’s Dentistry was quite a big department.Professor George Davies was head. Fluroride was just coming to be noticed as a preventative measure. And of course there was the School Dental Nurses who were trained to restore deciduous teeth.

General Medicine and Surgery were carried out at the Medical School–this I found very interesting. We attended operations mainly in the orthopaedic area. One was a fractured femur where a Smith Peterson “Pin” was used and to insert this a mallet had to used and the noise and blood were horrendous. Blood all over the walls of the operating theatre.

Our introduction to operating in a hospital was at the Dunedin Hospital (Medical School). There was not enough full dental clearances to go around the students so we had to assist at operations with Prof. Walsh. This gave us a good preview to Operating Theatre routine, and our relationship to theatre staff.

Then there were the term holidays. With my parents living in Auckland, it was a long trip. Hitchhiking was the order of the day and it took 2 to 3 days. One day to Christchurch, over night to Wellington on the Interisland Ferry. And with luck a lift from Wellington which could take a day but usually 2. There were many stories to be told about these ventures. We were picked up by all sorts of travellers, from travelling salesmen, to farmers, businessmen, woolbrokers, etc. etc. As we were at Dental School for 4 years this meant that we hitchhiked-about- 12 times–but some term holidays were spent in Dunedin where students got work at all sorts of jobs.

Compulsory Military Training began in 1952. It began with an orientation week at Papakura Camp–near Auckland. Which was followed by 3 weeks in the service of choice –which for me was the Army.– I could have joined the Air Force–but that would have meant 14 weeks out of the Uni. year so I decided against this. Then there was the Otago University Military Corp—OUMC–at Middlemarch, in the wilderness of Central Otago. the only CMT unit in NZ that had a wet canteen !! (The Dental Corp was part of OUMC). We did 4 lots of 3 weeks at OUMC in Jan, Feb, before the beginning of the Uni years, 1953 to 1956– and interesting they were. The food was even good to very good for an Army Camp. The “troops” put on a concert for the locals each year, in the local hall, and it was really appreciated. We did many exercises in the area, and became very fit. Every year a cocnert was put on by the “Troops” in the Middlemarch Townhall. A very welcome diversion to the residents of the town. I remember Ian McDonald –a Med. student, putting on Haydn’s Toy Symphony–which nearlly bought the house down.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s