Dunedin gets $130m dental upgrade

One of the world's most modern dental facilities has just opened in Dunedin.

It's part of a $130 million upgrade for Otago University's School of Dentistry aimed at upskilling the country's oral health professionals.

Visiting a dental clinic makes many people nervous, but the intelligent chairs and digital equipment at Otago's new dental school are designed to make checkups as painless as possible.

"We can take photographs of people's teeth and their mouth, and they see it on the screen immediately," Acting Dean of Dentistry Professor Karl Lyons told Newshub.

"And really just the capability of what the chairs have."

The project cements Dunedin as the national centre for dentistry alongside a new facility being built in South Auckland.

"Our students can train using the latest technology and techniques, so that they will be more effective healthcare providers when they graduate," says Professor Paul Brunton, Otago University Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

The hospital-level centre also offers affordable treatment for local residents. Almost a fifth of Dunedin's population already use the dental school for their regular care.

The larger facility can accommodate up to 120 dental students, but a Government cap on enrolments will still limit domestic numbers to around half that.

The project comes amidst growing debate over the oral health of New Zealanders.

A petition received by National MP David Bennett calls for free dental care to be extended to under 20-year-olds.

"We've seen for many years now that there's a link really between systemic health problems and oral health," Professor Lyons says.

Upgrade work will continue, with the historic Walsh Building set to be gutted to create research labs and offices.