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40 years looking after Waikato teeth

There will be plenty of people around Taranaki, Taumarunui, Hamilton and Cambridge who know Kay Rees.  And if they manage a broad toothy smile at the thought of her name she’s probably had a fair bit to do with that.

She’s been a dental nurse in those parts for close to 50 years. And last month Kay marked a total of 40 years’ service to the Waikato District Health Board including a couple of short breaks.

Kay’s 67 now and still loves her job as a dental therapist with Health Waikato’s Community Oral Health Service.  But she’s scaling things back a bit, recovering from a heart problem and looking forward to balancing her time at the Cambridge ‘’super clinic’’ with her other great passion, gardening.

Looking back a long career, Kay calls it a “wonderful journey’’.

“I’ve loved the children I’ve met – it’s more about the children than the teeth. The gear has changed but the kids haven’t.

“I’ve met amazing people and hope I’ve made a difference to people’s lives.’’

Christchurch girl Kay did her two-year training in Wellington before her first posting in Stratford. It was tough going – but could have been worse: Her friend from training was posted to Stewart Island.

Taumarunui was her next stop, for an eventful year, then on to Hamilton in 1966.  She was at Whitiora School “with holes in the floor that we stuffed with cotton wool” and later Frankton, and loved them both.

Later she moved to Leamington, Cambridge,  in 1985 and was there for 25 years before heading into Cambridge’s “super clinic’’  at the end of last year as the district’s oral health set up was restructured with bigger, modern fixed clinics and a fleet of mobiles.

“I started in a clinic with very little gear and now look at this state-of-the-art place,’’ she gestures from the Cambridge clinic.

The start certainly was fairly basic, and if something needed fixing Kay just got on and did it. Like when a clinic was dropped off at Taumarunui but wired and plumbed in back to front. “I just looked around and decided I’d have to get on and sort it myself.

“You were very isolated. But look at things now. And I have an assistant with me now. I remember that day, it was an amazing change.”

But the work of keeping children’s teeth right goes on. “That’s not so different. I still meet and greet and make them feel at home.”

Except now there’s a high speed drill, flash X-ray machine, super lighting, auto suction etc. But Kay’s liked moving with the times.

“Thanks to Health Waikato I’ve had a lot of skills updated. They’ve been a very good employer.”

She’s also seen kids’ oral health improve, although she cautions that may have a lot to do with being based in relatively prosperous Cambridge for a long time now.

“Parents care and are really aware of their children’s teeth. And we see the benefits of good promotion and education.”

“It’s all about education and people working together.”

ENDS

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