After seven years working as a dental surgery assistant Candice Gracie itched to take a more active role in patient care, so she trained as a dental hygienist.
It's a job she loves and takes seriously.
As a dental hygienist Candice combines her people skills and positive attitude with academic knowledge and clinical skills to treat periodontal (gum) disease and advise and educate her patients towards better health.
"Hygienists do more than just clean teeth. We treat gum disease. We don't treat decay but we help people prevent it by safely removing bacteria and showing people how to clean their teeth effectively," Candice says.
"People tell me 'I've been brushing my teeth for years' but that doesn't mean they have been doing it effectively. My job is educating them towards good oral health and motivating them to maintain it."
The University of Otago School of Dentistry is the only training facility of its kind in New Zealand, encompassing all dental disciplines. The dental hygiene programme provides the scientific knowledge to recognise oral and dental disease and the practical skills to treat and prevent periodontal disease.
In the two years since her graduation Candice has built up such a large patient base that the Dunedin dental practice she works in has had to take on a second dental hygienist.
"To me seeing a hygienist is another part of a healthy lifestyle - like eating five plus fruit and veges a day - to prevent more serious problems from occurring through looking after yourself," she says.
"People often don't think of cleaning their teeth as part of preventing a disease process, and instead do it for fresh breath or a clean taste. People tend to take their teeth and gums a bit for granted until they get problems. It's my job to help people value them and take care of them."
"I think the most enjoyable thing about the job is when you see results - when people open their mouths and you can see they have been following your advice. Making a contribution towards their oral health puts a smile on my face."