teeth. Now, we don’t have to be as destructive as that, so you can put veneers on and very thin porcelain, like point 2, point 3 of a millimetre thick. Drills are now doing 500,000 rpm, they’re much kinder.
‘When I started, I had an x-ray machine that was made in 1932. It was a huge thing. It took beautiful pictures, but it was cumbersome, it wasn’t totally electrically safe, and you had to develop film. Nowadays, you can flip it up on a computer screen, which makes life a lot easier. Also, it’s safer because you’re using a much lower dosage of radiation.’
There is now much more focus on hygiene and sterilisation. ‘When I started, I had a boiler which, if you were lucky, was sitting at 100 degrees Celsius and the instruments were put in there. The first piece of equipment I bought was a steam autoclave that heats to 130 degrees – it doesn’t need to be for as long but it kills off a whole lot more.’
Are people’s teeth better today? ‘It’s become more cosmetic so people look at white teeth but there’s still a problem: gum disease. And it’s such a shame. You see all these beautiful young people but they either just don’t know or they don’t go to the dentist. I’ve got a skull up there and gum disease is how he lost his teeth. Gum disease still causes people to lose teeth. People think it’s all just sugar but it’s not. Your teeth really need professional cleaning.
‘In times when you’re stressed, it becomes more of a problem because your mouth can be an indicator of a lot of early infections. When the rest of your body is starting to have a problem with something else, it will show up in your mouth.’
Yes, going to the dentist can be expensive. ‘I’d have loved to see some way of getting around the cost of the materials, the cost of everything. There’s no government subsidy like there is going to see a doctor, and yet it’s still a medical field. And it’s a business, you employ a number of staff.’
Helen believes young people are complacent. ‘The young ones go right through primary school and secondary school without any fillings, and at 18 they’re out of the benefit stage, where they have to start paying, and so they don’t bother to go for a checkup.
‘I think growing up, our generation, it was quite a welfare state, you just expected the help. It’s not like that anymore. I think people can go and spend a hundred dollars on a hair-do, eyelash extensions, or Botox, but not on dentistry. And then they smile, and they might have perfectly white teeth, because they bleach them, but you can see all the gum disease.’
Sugary drinks are still a problem. ‘It’s become an obesity problem but it’s also a decay problem, and in somewhere like Christchurch, which has no fluoride in the water, it’s always the disadvantaged kids that miss out and they’re the ones that lose their teeth,’ says Michael.
Michael and Helen both love the outdoors. After retirement, they visited Antarctica, Alaska, and the subantarctic islands. Michael has also competed in the Coast to Coast. They enjoy staying at their fishing hut in Loch Katrine, in the Canterbury High Country. ‘All those hills have been tramped in, parapented off, climbed, and we’ve kayaked up there, waterskied, and windsurfed around the lakes,’ says Michael.
‘My father had a place up there from the 1950s, so as a child I always went up there. I took my middle daughter up there when she was six weeks old. You cooked on an open fire, you got your water from the stream nearby and, if you wanted a bath, you went under the waterfall. We’ve modified things a little now. You can stay inside and stay warm; it’s got a fireplace.’
There’s no cellphone or internet. ‘You bring children up and they love it, they say it’s device-free and they get so excited,’ says Helen. ‘Isn’t that amazing!’
The Shands’ house, which they moved in to just before the February 2011 earthquake, enjoys a magnificent view from Clifton Hill over the estuary and city to the mountains. For Michael, it’s like coming full circle. ‘I lived just over there when I was one year old. This section we’re on is where I used to come when I was much younger and sit on a drain cover. It used to be somewhere I dreamed about: Gosh, wouldn’t it be neat one day to have a place here? I could never see it happening and Dad never got around to building anything here, so in the end we got left it and decided, right, we can do something with this.’
hitchhiking her way through Eastern Europe, it’s no surprise Ashleigh Stewart took a road less travelled a few years ago when she continued her full-time journalism career. Rather than following the well-trodden ‘Kiwi Big OE’ path to London, the former health reporter for The Press headed to the Middle East.
Ashleigh took her chances on finding a job in Dubai, a city of impressive skyscrapers surrounded by sand dunes and the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. A place where she quickly learned the realities of living in that Arab city weren’t what she expected.
‘It’s funny because I realise that not only me, but also the New Zealand perception of Dubai is quite different to how it really is,’ says Ashleigh over video chat from her apartment in the city. ‘I remember before I came out here I went shopping to try and buy myself a whole new wardrobe that would cover every aspect of my body, because I was worried about living in a Muslim conservative world, and I got here and there’s arse cheeks everywhere!’
Ashleigh laughs as she reminisces about having her expectations upturned.
‘It’s quite liberal in Dubai. Half the things you hear – people are like, “Oh, you’re not going to be able to drink at all, you’re going to have to cover up, be careful what you say, you’ll have to do this, do that”, but it’s not like that at all … it’s a very cosmopolitan population.’
A few years later, Ashleigh is now Culture Editor at
National, the English-language newspaper for the UAE. There are other outlets catering to the large Indian and Filipino ex-pat populations. She spends about half her time working on helping others in her team as an editor, and the other half writing her own stories. ‘It’s kind of the best of both worlds.’
While her Culture section includes arts, entertainment and lifestyle content, Ashleigh herself writes a range of other stories for The National. ‘Since the pandemic I’ve been working on a lot of Covid stories. But I also like historic stories, so I’ve been writing about the history of the UAE. It’s a real mixed bag. I’ll go from writing about COVID-19 and a prison guard who’s woken up from a month-long coma to writing about why Gulf Standard Time exists.’
The global pandemic has affected Ashleigh’s daily life as well as the stories she writes. The National is based out of Abu Dhabi, the smaller capital of the UAE, which means Ashleigh usually had a daily car-pooling commute with some colleagues of just over an hour each way.
‘At the moment I’m working from home, because Abu Dhabi has just kind of closed itself off to the outside world,’ explains Ashleigh. ‘There’s a lot of travel restrictions there.
You have to prove you’re Covid-free, so you have to get a test every time you want to go into Abu Dhabi. It’s not practical for us to be commuting every day, so we’re putting out a national newspaper with everyone at home, which is quite amazing that it’s still working. But it is.’
Living and working in the Middle East has opened Ashleigh’s eyes to a deeper understanding of a region and