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Past students help journey to new dentistry building

Wednesday 3 July 2019 3:40pm

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Faculty of Dentistry organisational delivery project manager and associate dean for clinical services Dr Peter Cathro takes a look at TV One reporter John McKenzie's teeth at the opening of the national centre for dentistry's new building in June. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

One of the “highest tech” dental facilities in the world was officially opened earlier this month – the hospital-level patient-treatment building for New Zealand’s only national centre for dentistry, at Otago.

Division of Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Brunton told the packed event he particularly wanted to thank the students who had helped on the journey to completing the building, especially those who knew they would never realise its benefits because they would graduate before it opened.

"To see the building and what we have got, and what we can do in the future, is just fantastic."

- Faculty of Dentistry acting Dean Professor Karl Lyons

He believed some of those students would return as postgraduates and some would have family taught in the building because dentistry tends to be a profession that runs in families.

Professor Brunton believes the new Clinical Services Building is possibly the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere and he felt overwhelmed by the amazing occasion.

He says the impressive Faculty of Dentistry already provides world-class education and research so the challenge now is to take that to next level – and that “is a challenge I have no doubt you are up to”.

He also challenged the faculty to work with the government “to do all we can to improve the oral health of New Zealanders … you all know there’s much work to do”.

As Professor Brunton spoke, he was standing at the lectern used during the opening of the faculty’s neighbouring Walsh Building, which started being used for patient treatments in 1961 and will now be gutted then refurbished as the next stage of this project.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne told the audience this project is the single largest and most complex project the University has attempted in its 150 year history so involved a lot of risk but the University had forged ahead because of the faculty’s incredible dedication to teaching, research and clinical practice.

The event included the unveiling and then laying of a stone to mark the occasion by Chancellor Dr Royden Somerville QC.

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Dr Somerville places the plaque on site

Watching his speech was Dunedin’s Dame Elizabeth Hannan, the daughter of Sir John Walsh who was Faculty of Dentistry Dean for 25 years from 1946 and had the faculty’s existing Walsh Building named in his honour.

Dame Elizabeth says the occasion was emotional and she “absolutely feels his vision is continuing”.

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Former Faculty of Dentistry Dean Sir John Walsh’s daughter Dame Elizabeth Hannan, of Dunedin, with the history panel showing the three buildings the Faculty of Dentistry has inhabited since it opened in 1907 – the building that is currently the Staff Club, the Marples Building that is now used by the Department of Zoology, and the Walsh Building, which is named after Dame Elizabeth’s father and is being gutted and refurbished as part of this dentistry project.

Faculty of Dentistry acting Dean Professor Karl Lyons is thrilled: “To see the building and what we have got, and what we can do in the future, is just fantastic.” The faculty is also constructing a new building in Counties Manukau to help meet high health needs while providing students with wide-ranging learning opportunities in a diverse community that will increase their understanding of people from a range of backgrounds.

Jamie Cargill is the project director for construction of both the Counties and Dunedin building, which has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to work on a dental hospital because not many are built around the world – now he is thrilled staff, students and the public are using it.

“This project is also a great investment in Dunedin. The national centre for dentistry has been here for over 100 years and this will mean it’s here for at least another 50-plus – and that’s exciting.”

He has been working on the project for more than five years – from design to build – and will be moving on to the next phase soon, gutting and rebuilding the interior of the Walsh Building, which is in front of the new building in Great King Street.

Division of Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Brunton says moving into the new building also involves adopting new ways, including:

  • The 214 new patient chairs – 61 more than previously - have integrated computers so
    • Patients’ records can be seen on a screen on the chair
    • The results of x-rays and scans can be seen on the screen, by the student, supervisor and patient
    • Images from a digital camera that takes photos inside patients’ mouths can be seen on the screen
    • A computerised self-cleaning system ensures infection prevention standards are stringent
    • Software (Vionex) monitors each chair’s functioning so any maintenance needs are immediately obvious and can be dealt with
  • Student tutorial spaces linked to patient treatment areas, which integrates technology to enrich the learning experience
  • No longer using potentially hazardous chemicals to produce x-rays, the work is done digitally

Another major change is using electronic patients' records instead of paper files, Professor Brunton says.

Previously, only patients’ names, contact details and financial records were kept electronically, everything else was in paper files taken from one place to another as patients were assessed and treated – during about 76,000 treatments annually for the public.

In the new building, the electronic patient management system Titanium has been broadened to cover more tasks so all new files will be completely electronic. As in any health environment, staff and students will be allowed access to relevant patients’ files only and have to sign a confidentiality agreement, he says.

With the new system:

  • Every time a patient is assessed or treated, students and supervisors can simply call up the patient’s electronic record
  • Students can immediately enter details of the treatment they are providing
  • Instead of administration staff using details in the paper patient files to monitor waiting lists, academic staff can easily compare electronic records to add patients to waiting lists and adjust the list as needed
  • Collaboration about patients’ care among the various dentistry disciplines is much easier because they can all instantly see what assessments, prevention measures, restoration and rehabilitation work other disciplines have done or are planning
  • The various disciplines can view a patient’s file simultaneously rather than waiting for a paper file to arrive, and can discuss the patient from different locations while looking at the same electronic file
  • Academic staff have an easy electronic way to monitor the types of patients each student has been treating, to select appropriate patients to fill any gaps in each student’s learning.

Using the up-graded Titanium system also helps prepare students for the workplace because most district health boards around New Zealand use Titanium – the software is one of the most commonly used in the health sector in Australasia. Many private practices also use a similar version of Titanium software, Professor Brunton says.


Having an electronic system will help solve one of the most common complaints patients make to the Faculty of Dentistry as well, that they did not know what their treatment was going to cost.

Staff and students can print out a treatment estimate to discuss with patients before treatment starts.

Despite all the changes, this University service continues to aim to provide patients with quality treatment at an attractive cost, recognising patients play a vital role in helping to train the students, Professor Brunton says.


The new systems were introduced first at Orthodontics in the Faculty of Dentistry and the Te Kaika health, social and education clinic in Caversham in Dunedin – which provided opportunities to smooth out any complications with both the up-graded electronic systems and new processes.

All existing processes were documented by a business analyst from the moment a potential patient contacts the Faculty of Dentistry until the patient leaves its care, including investigations into patients’ possible eligibility for funding.

That formed the basis for new processes and about 80 per cent of them were introduced before staff and students started using the new building, in preparation for the move.

Occupation of the new building

The public began being treated in the new building early this month, when the urgent care clinic started taking a few patients.

All those patients used the new public entrance from Frederick Street which opens into a four-storey atrium and general reception that this project added between the new building and dentistry’s existing Walsh Building.

All the public clinics should be open from the start of the second semester on 8 July, but the existing clinics in the Walsh Building will stay in place initially in case they are needed for any reason.

Staff and students have had a building orientation and received more training on new equipment and systems in the build-up to the official opening, Professor Brunton says.


The Faculty of Dentistry

  • Performs about 76,000 dental treatments annually for the public from around the South Island
  • Includes undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in dentistry, oral health and dental technology
  • Includes the Sir John Walsh Research Institute
  • The University of Otago has been home to New Zealand’s national centre of dentistry since 1907 and it has been on its current site since 1961

This project

  • The new 8,000m2 building houses specialty and teaching clinics, the Primary Care Unit, and radiography, and surgical suites
  • Now, the existing 8,000m2 Walsh Building will be refurbished to house research laboratories, academic offices, student support, and teaching laboratories
  • The two buildings will linked by an 1800 square metre atrium – the ‘heart’ of the facility, used by patients, students and staff. The atrium has already been built but is not yet linked to the Walsh Building
  • The University’s budget for this project – the new building, Walsh refurbishment and atrium – is about $130 million dollars
  • The Walsh Building has a heritage-listed, glass-curtain facade in Great King Street which will be carefully upgraded and replicated with a facade that meets current standards for weather-proofing and heat retention. The mosaic north-facing wall will also be cleaned and refurbished. Both those tasks will involve Salmond-Reed Heritage specialists and ongoing consultation with Heritage New Zealand, which lists the 1961-built modernist building as a Category 1 historic place

The new patient chairs

  • Were manufactured at DentsplySirona’s factory in Germany and shipped to Dunedin in 20 containers, with some radiography equipment
  • Every chair (Sinius Treatment Centre) has a host of services attached – including power, data, water, drainage, compressed air, dental suction and a central dosing system that cleans internal pipework.
  • DentsplySirona installed the chairs using staff from a local experienced medical engineering company who received factory training from DentsplySirona in Bensheim, then the manufacturer’s technicians from Germany also helped as work ramped up
  • DentsplySirona provided trainers from Germany and Australia to ensure the University’s super-users learnt about the chairs’ full capabilities and their associated equipment. Those super-users ran on-going training sessions for staff and students before they occupied the new building and helped afterwards