Wendy Dashwood comes clean

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Wendy Dashwood
Wendy Dashwood photographed by Sean Davey

In the same year Armstrong walked on the moon, Wendy Dashwood was starting her dental assistant studies. Things sure have changed over the past 50 years. By Frank Leggett

The advancements in dentistry over the past 50 years are staggering. While technological advances such as clear aligners, implants, digital radiography and CAD/CAM would seem like science fiction to a dentist in 1969, they have been equally matched by improvements in the training and upskilling of dentists. 

The same is true for hygienists and the advances in preventative dentistry. In 1969, when Wendy Dashwood began her studies to become a dental assistant, hygienists were still a thing of the future in Australia. 

Fifty years ago

“I was 16 in 1969 and had just finished school,” says Dashwood. “I lived in a small country town so I had to relocate to Adelaide in order to attend the Dental School at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH). I was put into a church hostel with a whole bunch of other country kids who were mostly studying at the teachers’ college. It was very exciting because in my town most of my friends were either farmers or shop assistants. While there were a few women studying to be dentists at RAH, all the students studying to become dental assistants were women.”

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During her time at RAH, Dashwood gained experience by assisting dentists and dental students. She also worked with specialist dentists in general dentistry and a variety of specialised fields. Dashwood recalls, “We were moved around into all the different clinics and experienced all the different facets of dentistry.”

After completing her studies, Dashwood worked in a private practice and volunteered to be part of the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s dental run, flying into isolated parts of South Australia to work in remote rural areas. She would stay out there for up to 10 days at a time, sleeping in spare hospital beds, at missions or being put up by the locals.

“At this time, I was very keen to go overseas so I also picking up extra work whenever possible,” says Dashwood. “At the time I was earning $35 a week. An air ticket to London was $1200.”

London Calling

It took until 1975 for Dashwood to save enough money to travel overseas. She found work as a dental assistant in London and then moved on to Canada where she upgraded her dental nurse qualifications. On returning to Adelaide, she was selected to study dental hygiene by the Department of Further Education based at the Dental School in the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Only 10 students per year were accepted and Dashwood was in the third training group. After graduating in 1978, she worked at a general private practice in the Adelaide Hills before moving to Canberra where dental hygiene was undergoing legislation through parliament. 

Hygienists unite 

At that time, South Australia was the only state where hygienists were able to register and work. Dashwood was the first registered hygienist in the ACT. 

“Being part of the DHAA has been wonderful. It’s a great organisation, advocating for good dental health across the nation and the world.” 

Wendy Dashwood, dental hygienist, Yass Valley Dental

“Dentists in Canberra began employing overseas hygienists as there was only 30 new hygiene graduates, most of whom were working in Adelaide,” says Dashwood. “The overseas hygienists worked with me to establish the ACT branch of the Dental Hygienists Association of Australia (DHAA). Other states followed and our numbers began to grow. We were soon running professional development days and seminars. The support from our employer dentists was amazing and helped create a wonderful sense of camaraderie.”

Help the aged

In 2003, Dashwood started working at Yass Valley Dental, encouraging preventive dental care for all ages. She also works closely with Valmar, a support agency for clients with physical and intellectual disabilities, living independently and in group homes.

“I completed the Aged Care Certificate 3 at Yass TAFE to gain more understanding of the ongoing care and the needs of the aged,” says Dashwood. “I am currently working with aged care patients at the practice and run a regular mobile dental clinic at Yass Valley Aged Care where I’m a board member.” Dashwood passionately believes that aged care is an area that really needs the skills of dental hygienists. 

“My long-term hope is that hygienists will eventually be employed full-time in aged care facilities,” says Dashwood. “Ideally there would be a designated dental room, supported by the government, offering hygiene services and referral options to dentists. I believe there should be a compulsory examination by a dental professional when a new resident arrives at a home. Dental care needs to be as accepted as physiotherapy, podiatry, and the like.”

Times change

With a career spanning half a century, Wendy Dashwood has seen the work of hygienists and the adoption of preventive care grow in leaps and bounds. “People now expect and desire preventive care every time they visit the dentist for a regular check-up,” she says.

“Being part of the DHAA has been wonderful,” says Dashwood. “It’s a great organisation, advocating for good dental health across the nation and the world. I’m very appreciative of the support I receive from all the dental hygienists in Australia. When I started, there was just 30 us and now we number around 1500. It’s a wonderful profession.”


Some of the biggest changes Wendy Dashwood has seen over her career are:

  • Most practices now employ hygienists or oral health therapists, and patients are asking to see them. 
  • A preventive care/hygiene appointment is now expected when a patient comes for a dental examination.
  • The growth and popularity of effective home-care products including toothpastes, specialised toothbrushes, flosses, interdental brushes, and waterpiks—to name a few. 
  • Google has made everyone more knowledgeable.  
  • Patients are becoming more involved with their own care and are much more proactive.



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