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24 Sep 2020

A profession and a history to be proud of

A profession and a history to be proud of
hosted by the British Dental Conference and Dentistry Show, the team collaborated with the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN) to bring you “Dental Nursing – A Historical Perspective

As we have experienced once again in recent months, we often learn most when we reflect on our past. Knowing where we’ve come from and how we’ve got to where we are now is important for planning what to do next and what we hope to achieve in the future.   As part of the webinar series hosted by the British Dental Conference and Dentistry Show, the team collaborated with the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN) to bring you “Dental Nursing – A Historical Perspective”. Presented by Dr Debbie Reed, it provided insight into the history of dental nursing and how it has evolved within the context of the wider dental profession. Debbie is a Doctor of Education and the Head of Digital and Lifelong Learning at the University of Kent. She is also a GDC registrant and was the first Chair of the BADN Executive Committee in October 2015-17. 


Debbie told the story of dental nursing over the past 100 years. She shared her findings from extensive research as part of the thesis for her recently awarded Doctorate in Education, which included images, paintings, newspaper clippings, first-hand accounts and books from the last century.


Debbie showed how dentists have always worked with an assistant of some kind – in the early days, a female chaperone for female patients, a daughter or wife – though the role wasn’t officially recognised until the 19th century. She went on to illustrate the fascinating evolution of dentistry in general. She focused on the motivations to develop the profession around the time of the second Boar War in 1899-1902, when 6% of men were rejected by the military due to dental ailments. It was at this point that health education became of a higher priority in the UK, especially for the working classes. The School Dentists Society in 1898 appointed registered dentists to public institutions for children and medical inspections were introduced in schools in an attempt to raise standards of the population’s oral health. Dental nurses also worked in schools to educate the children and provide basic care. Indeed, public health was a massive concern at the turn of the century and plans were in motion to ignite change.


Debbie went on to talk about the insurance scheme against illness and unemployment proposed in 1909 in Lloyd George’s Budget Speech for wage earners (roughly 70% of the population). This was followed by General Haig’s experience with toothache at the start of WW1, which led to the training of dental operators in the Army. Images from these events and dental situations from overseas were explored, confirming the presence of a dental assistant/nurse throughout.


Moving with the times, Debbie highlighted that the first training school for dental nurses was opened in New Zealand in 1921. After two years of training, graduates were responsible for child dental care at six-monthly intervals. The named role began to be implemented around the world and the dental nurse’s remit was quite extensive. Interestingly in the UK, there had also been ‘dental dressers’, who were trained to deliver certain dental services, under the prescription of the dentist and, later, within the restrictions imposed by the Dental Act 1921. By 1924, the long-standing debate about the scope and role of dental nurses came to an abrupt end, perhaps – at least in part – due to the death of advocate Sidney Barwise.


Debbie discussed how the story of dental nursing stayed quiet from then until the 1940s, when the professional association for dental assistants and nurses, now the British Association of Dental Nurses, was founded. Given that BADN is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, it is safe to say that this was a major landmark in the history of dental nursing!


What was also made clear during Debbie’s session was the continued value of the dental nurse’s role in providing dental services to patients. To this day, first-class dentistry and patient care cannot be delivered without the skills and support of a dental nurse. It really is a profession to be proud of.


The next British Dental Conference and Dentistry Show will be held on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd May 2021, Birmingham NEC, co-located with DTS.


BADN will once again be chairing the Dental Nurses’ Forum, which will take the place of the National Dental Nursing Conference as part of their 80 + 1 celebrations.  The BADN stand will incorporate a lounge area where BADN members can relax and enjoy a coffee; the BADN Anniversary Afternoon Tea will be held on Saturday 22 May 2021 at the NEC Hilton – more info available at 


For more information, visit, call 020 7348 5270 or email







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