Strengthening Te Tai Tokerau’s Oral Health Workforce | Te Whatu Ora - Te Tai Tokerau

Strengthening Te Tai Tokerau’s Oral Health Workforce

A collaboration between AUT and Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora Te Tai Tokerau is addressing the oral health workforce shortage by supporting oral health bachelor students to work remotely and close to home.

The local Bachelor of Health Science (Oral Health) programme is now in its third year and has 21 students enrolled: 10 in their first year, five in their second year, and six set to graduate as oral health therapists at the end of 2024. Many of these students are adult students with families, and around 50 percent are Māori.


Three students on the programme are supported by local Northland scholarships this year. One student received a scholarship from the 2024 JR.BM Unregulated Health Workers Fund that provides 60 percent of a student's course fees, and two others received $2,500 each from the Oral Health Therapist Fund. 


A member of our community generously provides both funds to support kaimahi who have no previous qualifications and are seeking to study at the certificate, diploma, or bachelor level. 


The scholarships are administered by Health Fund PLUS, a partnership between Health NZ Te Tai Tokerau and Northland Community Foundation. The fund focuses on raising funds for projects outside the scope of usual government funding. Since 2018, it has been providing opportunities for Health New Zealand and Te Aka Whai Ora kaimahi in Te Tai Tokerau to receive financial support for their tuition fees.


Chevau Johnston, a recipient of the JR.BM Fund, is originally from Kaikohe and has worked for Health NZ in Te Tai Tokerau for five years as a dental assistant. She became interested in becoming an oral health therapist after seeing first-hand the value they bring to the local community. This experience has also made her committed to returning home to Kaikohe once she completes her training. 


"My goal is to contribute to my community's health and well-being by working for Health NZ, where I can apply my expertise and skills to improve oral health outcomes and make a meaningful impact in Kaikohe, bridging the oral health disparities, access to care for those in need and change oral health habits," Chevau says. 


Pip Zammit, Director of Scientific, Technical and Allied Health, says that the AUT programme has been incredibly successful in providing the region’s service with skilled oral health professionals. 


"The success of this support enables tauira to study remotely and close to home with proven academic and clinical results so far."        


Six new oral health therapists joined the Te Tai Tokerau team this year after completing the AUT Bachelor of Health Science (Oral Health) degree.


The new team members will significantly contribute to providing care to the community, treating adults and some of the 37,266 children and adolescents enrolled across Te Tai Tokerau. 


Professor Judith McAra-Couper, Head of School - Clinical Sciences at AUT, agrees.


"In the past, students had to travel to Auckland to become oral health therapists. As a school, we are committed where feasible and appropriate - and where the community has identified a need - to see if we can provide education that enables students to study close to home.


"We were pleased to be able to support Health NZ Te Tai Tokerau and their partners in addressing longstanding workforce needs in oral health to meet the community's needs," McAra-Couper says.


"We have a long history of delivering education in this way in Northland, and it shows AUT can be part of the solution to meeting health and workforce needs."


Karen Lansdown, Head of Department - Oral Health at AUT, says the response to the programme highlights the remarkable level of national and international interest in AUT's 'flipped chair' model of dental education.


"We have fantastic students who are community-focused and genuinely appreciate the experience of learning at home in their community," Lansdown says.


"Students are passionate about their community and addressing service challenges, and, at the end of the day, they are there for the people of Te Tai Tokerau."


Witnessing the success of this initiative, other regions are showing interest in replicating the programme in their area as one way of addressing the workforce shortage.


Health NZ provides oral health care services for children, adolescents, and eligible adults in Te Tai Tokerau. 


Oral health care is provided by 18 school-based mobile dental clinics that visit up to 80 sites across Te Tai Tokerau, community dental clinics in Whangārei, Kerikeri, Kaitaia, Kaikohe, Hokianga, Mangawhai, and Dargaville, and at Whangārei, Bay of Islands, Dargaville and Kaitaia Hospitals. 


The community-based dental service is free for children under 18 years. Adults who are Community Service Card Holders and live in Northland can also access the service (note that a $40 co-payment charge applies for each appointment). 


To learn more about the service or make an appointment, call 0800 MYTEETH (0800 698 3384) or visit  


Photo 1: JR.BM Fund recipient Chevau Johnston

Photo 2: Left to right - 2024 Bachelor of Health Science (Oral Health) third year students Chantelle Tindall, Hine Tu Kaha Leaf, Talia King, Chevau Johnstone, Cheyenne Subritzky-Clark and Miranda Baas



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