Bridging the Outback dental gap

In the small NSW Outback community of Collarenebri a trip to the dentist used to be governed entirely by whether you had access to a car.

The nearest dental service at Walgett, about 80 km away, is operated by the local Indigenous health service. And there’s a private dentist at Moree, 140 km to the east.

But all that changed last year when The Outback Oral Treatment and Health (TOOTH) program began operating across western NSW.

For Collarenebri resident and single parent of three Nigel Clarke, 49, TOOTH is now an essential part of his life.Nigel Clarke

He and his children, aged seven, eight and 12, have been regular users since it began in early 2012.

“I’ve been three times over the past year,” Nigel (right) said.

“They did a filling last time and I had to come back and get some more work done. I chipped a tooth.

“My kids also use this service. We’re very lucky to have it. Walgett is the nearest alternative but without access to a car we can’t get there. Without this service me and the kids would be stuck.”

Oral disease continues to be one of the most widespread yet preventable health problems in Australia.

TOOTH has brought much needed regular dental services and oral health education to complement those already on the ground across remote NSW.

More than 1,600 rural residents utilised the program in the 2013/14 financial year. Many had previously not seen a dentist in years.

Throughout the 256 clinics held in its first year, TOOTH has seen a growing number of new patients, and an increase in diagnostic and preventative services.

This is proof of TOOTH’s commitment to not just treating oral disease but preventing it from occurring.

But there is more work to do.

Thong Vu and Theodore Costa  Callum Addison

TOOTH dentist Callum Addison (centre) with dental students Theodore Costa and Thong Vu.

RFDS TOOTH dentist Dr Callum Addison, based in Dubbo, said: “You can see the statistics but until you see it firsthand it doesn’t really hit home.

“Most Australians living in cities would be unaware of the poor dental standards in Outback Australia.”

The TOOTH program was launched by the Royal Flying Doctor Service South East Section and the Investec and Gonski foundations, which together provided funding of $2.5 million over three years.

In its first 12 months TOOTH operated 256 ‘fly in’ clinics at Lightning Ridge, Collarenebri, Goodooga and Bourke.

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About Royal Flying Doctor

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been serving the Australian community for over 85 years. From humble beginnings in 1928, the RFDS now ha
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