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The New Zealand Dental Services

Training of Dental Orderlies

Training of Dental Orderlies

The men and women engaged as dental orderlies were selected more for their intelligence and general suitability than for their previous knowledge of dental work. Their training as dental assistants was primarily in the hands of the officers of the Corps, who varied in their capabilities as teachers and, in the very early part of the war, were in military knowledge little more than a page ahead of their pupils. With the advent of the officer's vade-mecum page 96 in 1941 there was a standardisation of training, but before that each officer taught his orderly the fundamentals of chairside assistance, care and sterilisation of instruments, mixing of amalgam and cements and recording of examinations and treatment according to his own ideas on the subjects. Training in military matters was in the hands of the Principal Dental Officers or officers commanding sections, as also was the training in specialist branches such as administration, clerical or stores NCOs. It was not the best type of training but it was all that could be done at the time, and many excellent orderlies were produced by these methods.

It was not until 1942 that a scheme was submitted whereby WAAFs were trained and examined for trade testing to classify them as Group ‘D’ (dental). A syllabus was prepared and lectures and practical tuition were given by the officers commanding the dental sections at the various Air Force stations. By this time the officers were better equipped to teach and knew much more of service procedure and Corps organisation. Trade testing was held twice a year or at the discretion of the DDS, the first taking place three months after the inauguration of the scheme. There were two main subjects:


Surgical duties.


Clerical duties and accounting for stores.

There was a written paper of one hour's duration and a quarter-hour oral examination in each subject. General capabilities were the subject of a report from the officer commanding the section to the DDS, and this was considered with the examination results. Examinations were conducted from Air Headquarters, Wellington, by arrangement with the DDS, who had control of all classification of WAAF dental personnel. The oral examinations were held on the RNZAF station. On completion of the examination the WAAFs were classified:

Group IV: WA2—Written and oral, 50 per cent in each subject.

Group IV: WA1—Written and oral, 60 per cent in each subject.

This reclassification carried an increase in pay as ‘Qualified Personnel’. This produced more highly trained assistants than the haphazard methods of the past had done.

The RNZAF was the only service to adopt this trade testing for dental orderlies, and judging by its success, it is reasonable to suggest its adoption by the other services. The tuition can be given without interfering with normal routine and should take little organisation to set it in motion. It entails extra hours of work, but the officer is repaid by more efficient orderlies and the orderly has the incentive of more pay and added interest in the subject. A sine qua non is a nucleus of officers capable of teaching and this, to begin with, would have to come from those holding commissions in the Regular Forces or the Territorial Force.