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Kirsty Barltrop, the New Zealand Dental Hygienist of the Year, credits her patients, students and staff for her success, saying that she learnt a great deal from each of them.

Kirsty Barltrop, a Professional Practice Fellow in the Bachelor of Oral Heath at the University of Otago, has been awarded New Zealand Dental Hygienist of the Year 2023.

The annual New Zealand Oral Health Association awards recognise oral health practitioners who go above and beyond to raise the bar for oral health care. Kirsty’s commitment is evident, teaching students during the semester and treating her own patients during university breaks. This combination, she says, informs her practice methods.

“It helps you understand how difficult it can be – because it is very difficult at times. Students and patients have a lot of challenges to get through, and it’s helpful for us to remember that.”

Kirsty has a long history with the Otago School of Dentistry. She began as a Dental Assistant in 2000 and graduated as a Dental Hygienist in 2004, after thinking, “I’d really like to do what the students are doing”.

A Professional Practice Fellow since 2011, Kirsty has been formative in the education of students and patients alike and has seen the qualification evolve. “When I did my course in dental hygiene, it was separated from dental therapy, and then they were combined into the Bachelor of Oral Health in 2007.”

“It’s good for people to realise what we’re doing here at the Dental School. Hopefully, we are helping to develop good habits from childhood, with a focus on prevention all the way through adulthood.”

Kirsty’s teaching impact on New Zealand’s oral health is easy to see. Anne-Marie Maikuku, an Otago graduate in the Bachelor of Oral Health, was awarded the Annette King Award for Excellence and Leadership at the same ceremony.

“Anne-Marie did it all herself – she does a lot of work in her Waikato community. She and many other graduates are improving oral health all over New Zealand.”

Despite Kirsty’s award-winning approach to oral health, she gives credit back to those around her.

“I’ve been working here for so many years, and I find that I pick up a lot of my teaching skills from others – learning from patients, students, and other staff.”

And after 23 years, Kirsty isn’t expecting her journey with the Dental School to end any time soon.

“Obviously,” she says, “I’m hoping to be here quite a bit longer.”

- Kōrero by Molly Wootton, Communications Advisory.

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