Until the arrival of 'specialist' dentists in the mid-nineteenth century, dental care was provided by the medical profession and druggists, who were eventually registered under two British Acts, the Colonial Medical Act (1858) and the Colonial Dentists Act (1878). The first Tasmanian Dentists Act (1884) registered trained, qualified dentists, five in Hobart and four in Launceston. Registration was finalised by examining boards in Hobart and Launceston, and licentiate certificates were issued. In some country areas, pharmacists were also registered dentists. From 1892 until about 1913 the Launceston General Hospital ran a School of Dentistry for apprentice dentists. Dental services were bolstered by a trickle of mainland university graduates as well as Launceston graduates.

Many isolated communities had problems gaining access to dentists, and were often served by dentists on a part-time basis, mainly providing extraction and denture services. Country doctors continued to extract teeth, one as late as 1981. The Bass Strait islands were visited by dentists travelling by sea. On the Tasmanian mainland, road and rail transport was used (and horseback to Adamsfield), and dentists set up in hotel rooms or private residences in the areas they visited.

An Association of Tasmanian Dentists was formed in 1915, and in 1928 became the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Dental Association. The Dentists Act (1919) was the basis of registration and control of dental practice for the next sixty years. It was amended in 1937 to prevent Tasmania becoming a dumping ground for 'European dentists of doubtful qualifications'. In the 1930s School Dental Clinics were opened in Hobart and Launceston.

In 1953 the Beaconsfield Council was the first in Australia to fluoridate its water supply, and Launceston and Hobart councils followed, though the community was divided on the issue. A Royal Commission finding in complete support of fluoridation saw the passing of the Fluoridation Act (1968) which meant Tasmania's communal water supplies were all fluoridated. The standard of teeth in the community improved enormously over time.

Dental care developed from the 1950s. School dental clinics were expanded with mobile caravan clinics, and more static clinics. Bursaries enabled Tasmanian students to study interstate. Dental mechanics could practise from 1957, and from 1965 a school in Hobart trained girls as dental therapists to treat schoolchildren. Private dentists established clinics in Hydro construction camps, servicing them, on a part-time basis, as well as midland and east coast towns. When transport became easier and the camps closed, these services were withdrawn. Industries and mining companies established dental clinics to treat staff and their families, and many continued to do so.

In 2001 the Dental Practitioners' Registration Act was passed to register dentists, dental therapists and dental hygienists, and the Dental Board was expanded to include consumer representation. In 2004 the areas of major settlement are serviced by private dentists, and salaried dentists in hospitals or government clinics. School children received care from dental therapists and dentists in the School Dental Service.

Further reading: E Marks, 'History of dentistry in Tasmania', paper presented to Royal Society of Tasmania, 1966, copy in Dr Evans' possession.

Peter Evans