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Friday 10 December 2021 10:01am

Lateisha Chant image
Lateisha Chant (Rangitāne ki Wairau, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Ngāti Kuia, Kāi Tahu).

Lateisha Chant graduates with a Bachelor in Oral Health this December.

Oral health appealed to her as it is more about prevention than the curative approach of dentistry, she says. “Because this preventative approach is so community focussed it aligns with my values a bit more.”

Lateisha will work as an oral health therapist providing oral healthcare to patients, including oral health education, treatment of gum disease and restorative treatment for patients under the age of 18.

She says one of the things that drew her to a career in oral health was her own childhood experience. “My Mum and Dad both hated the dentist from when they were young. Particularly my Dad who had such bad memories of the foot-peddle drills and not being numbed up enough and he's retained all of that into adulthood.

“If tamariki can hear their language, then it shows that they could also work as an oral health professional when they are older. There's a lot of power to te reo Māori. It's a really symbolic, beautiful language.”

“So, when I was little, I used to freak out about the dentist because I saw my parents freaking out. I remember my first wriggly tooth, I didn't want to tell my parents. I was so distraught when I first had to go to see the dental therapist, but she ended up being really lovely and even gave me some glitter and told me it was tooth fairy dust, it seemed so cool to me.”

Despite her early interest, a career in oral health seemed unobtainable. After exploring some other options, including some study towards a bachelor's degree in te reo Māori, Lateisha became a dental assistant. The dentist she worked with encouraged her to go and study.

“It was nice to have that support that I could go and do that,” Lateisha says. “I remember in my first year freaking out and thinking 'I can't hold the instruments properly and look in the mirror with indirect vision', and now it's come full circle where it's fine.”

An interprofessional education placement in Te Tairāwhiti (Gisborne) was a valuable experience for Lateisha in the final year of her studies. Students from physiotherapy, medicine, occupational therapy and dietetics all stayed together during the five-week placement. As well as practicing oral health therapy in DHB clinics, Lateisha observed the other health professional students in their work.

“By collaborating with other health professionals, I could care for a patient more holistically. For example, if I had a patient who had dexterity issues with their toothbrush, I could consult with an occupational therapist so see if they had any recommendations or adjuncts that could help improve their dexterity. I love working in a team and I will definitely keep collaborating and learning through my work,” Lateisha says.

The placement further confirmed Lateisha's desire to work in public health at the community level.

“My time in Te Tairāwhiti was a bit of shock to the system compared to my experience in Dunedin. In my first few days we referred at least five children under the age of five to the hospital to have some of their teeth extracted because of decay. I had seen early childhood decay in pictures of in clinical exams, but I hadn't seen it to that extent in real life.”

During her studies, Lateisha has contributed a lot to the Faculty of Dentistry's capability in te reo and te Ao Māori, including serving as the Kaiwhakahaere Bachelor of Oral Health Representative on the executive team for Ngā Mōkai o Ngā Whetū (Māori Dental Students' Association).

“I felt that I had lost proficiency in te reo Māori after moving away from home and no longer being surrounded by people I was close to who I could kōrero Māori with. I wanted to be able to incorporate te reo Māori into my career and when interacting with my patients, but felt quite overwhelmed as I had never used it in a clinical setting before and didn't really know where to begin,” Lateisha says.

“So I compiled translations for as many dental terms and phrases as I could and kept adding to it, with help and reassurance from whānau and  kaiako Māori that I was on the right track and it was correct. I also wanted to help encourage those who felt similarly to me to use it more and embrace Māoritanga within the dental faculty, as it is not something you hear very often.

“It's important to use te reo in a clinical setting with Māori. It's good to be seen and have your culture embraced particularly with children. On placement there was a patient with a beautiful long Māori name. When I said his name, he did a double-take and gave me a huge smile. I said, 'what's up?' And he said, 'you said my name right!'.

“If tamariki can hear their language, then it shows that they could also work as an oral health professional when they are older. There's a lot of power to te reo Māori. It's a really symbolic, beautiful language.”

Lateisha is interested in public health and aspires to doing a master's and working in public health to help address oral health disparities in Aotearoa.

She will soon be starting a job with the Northland District Health Board to work within that community. First, she's taking some time to experience Dunedin without exams or assignments looming and then taking a road trip north.

Lateisha says a lot of people have supported her on her journey.

“All of my tutors, and faculty staff. My wonderful friend group within the faculty in both oral health and dentistry who I spent countless hours with over the past three years. I was very lucky to have an amazing clinic buddy, Tina, who helped make even the most stressful clinics fun, especially when we started seeing our first real-life patients or being on shuttle duty trying to stop children from running away at the clinic.

“My friend Jenna, an oral health therapist who I used to work with prior to my studies, has basically been my unofficial mentor throughout my degree and given me many motivational pep talks and advice that helped build my confidence as a clinician.”

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