Cutting-edge dental care, no matter where

Cutting-edge dental care, no matter where

Date published

29 Aug 2023

The next time you pack a bag for a trip, you may wish to spare a thought for the RFDS Oral Health team.

Our Dentists and Hygienists regularly arrange a whopping 350 kilograms of state-of-the art mobile dental equipment into the back of an aircraft to fly to some of the country’s most remote communities – a complex packing achievement they now have down to a fine art.

The RFDS Oral Health team is in the air or on the road most weeks of the year, providing check-ups, x-rays and hygiene services, fillings and extractions.

Once landed and set up at a community’s local medical centre, the portable two-chair pop-up dental clinic opens its doors on Monday morning, with the team working until Friday afternoon to deliver more than 60 appointments during that week.

In any given year, the team provides more than 1,600 remote oral health consultations to people beyond the reach of mainstream dental clinics.

Video: Timelapse of an aircraft being packed for Marree in Far North SA – one of more than 10 locations the team visits regularly across SA and the NT.

“Each visit, we take enough equipment to do 65 oral health exams, fillings and hygiene cleans for 35 patients, along with plenty of toothbrushes, toothpaste and so much more,” RFDS Senior Dentist Dr Vaibhav Garg said.

“The communities don’t want dentists flying in to just extract teeth – they want options for their families, young and old, to be educated about oral health and to access preventive care, which is what led us to include a hygienist chair and a dentist chair with every visit.”

August marked Dental Health Week, with this year’s theme – Mind, Body, Mouth – focusing on the mouth and whole-body connection.

Good oral health is crucial when it comes to managing chronic disease. There are known links between mouth disease and other diseases in the body, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, lung conditions and inflammatory bowel disease.

“At the RFDS, we have an incredible team of dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants, which enables us to deliver a holistic care model – that’s a combination of preventative care, health education and timely treatments,” Dr Garg said.

“Partnering with remote communities, industry leaders and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, we’ve created a program that’s patient-led and designed around how communities want to receive care. While we work from clinics, we also engage with schools, aged care facilities and other community hubs.

“No matter where you live, work or play, everyone should have the same access to quality care.”

RFDS Purple House collaboration
Photo: This year, the team conducted a pilot dental program in partnership with Aboriginal Health Service, Purple House in Alice Springs, supporting dialysis patients.

The RFDS Oral Health Team has been named a ‘Primary Health Care Team of the Year’ finalist at the annual NT Primary Health Network Awards for their work with the communities of Kintore, Kiwirrkurra and Mutitjulu in Central Australia.

The winner is set to be announced in early September.