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In A History of Dentistry in New Zealand, Brooking (1980) has the origins of the profession of dentistry amongst barbers, pharmacists, blacksmiths, doctors, and a number of other trades—with the result being that a visit to the dentist was usually a gruesome experience.

In an attempt to ensure a "standard of practice", the registration of dentists in New Zealand was introduced in 1880.

In 1904, an act of Parliament placed the education of dentists under the control of the University of New Zealand.

A four-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree was introduced in Dunedin in 1907, with provision for 20–25 students. The first dean was Dr H P Pickerill, who achieved distinction for his research into dental caries and later as a plastic surgeon.

The third dean, Sir John Walsh, strengthened the scientific and clinical base of the Faculty of Dentistry—by providing modern research facilities and introducing postgraduate programmes in the early-1960s—when the Faculty moved into its third dental school, later to be called the Walsh Building.

Sir John was an advocate for water fluoridation in New Zealand, but will be best remembered for his patent and construction of the a high speed air turbine handpiece (1949), which is very similar to the high speed handpieces in use today.

More recently the Faculty has introduced training of professionals complementary to dentists: dental therapists (1999), dental hygienists (2001), and dental technologists (2001). This enables the Faculty of Dentistry to offer integrated research-informed programmes for all dental professionals.

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