Meet the team: Oral Health Program Service Coordinator

A woman with blonde hair smiles at the camera. She is wearing a red and navy polo shirt with RFDS logo on her chest.

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in the Adelaide Hills and moved to Adelaide to study the Advanced Diploma of Oral Health (Dental Hygiene). It was in Adelaide I met my husband Eddie, a pilot. After I graduated, I spent a number of years working as a Dental Hygienist in general private practice. 

After a stint living and working in Alice Springs, Eddie was offered a job as a Line Pilot at RFDS Port Augusta Base. Not long after we moved to Port Augusta, I became aware the RFDS was expanding its Remote Oral Health Program. I was offered the position of Dental Coordinator/Hygienist and commenced in the role in June 2018.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

I love the outback lifestyle. We are very lucky in Port Augusta, we have the ocean and the outback at our doorstep. Eddie and I spend a lot of time outdoors hiking and camping.

What attracted you to working with the RFDS? 

I loved the idea of being able to develop a program that would provide a mobile dental and oral health care service to residents and communities in rural and remote areas, where people may otherwise face significant barriers
to accessing oral health care. 

Some outreach dental services may simply provide emergency treatment. Whilst this is definitely an important aspect of what we do, we also have a strong focus on empowering and motivating people towards good health and prevention of oral disease. I’ve long been passionate about raising oral health literacy, and it’s very satisfying to be part of a team that has a strong focus on prevention and education.

Four people sit in a medical office. A lady in a striped top sits in a dentist chair. A man wearing a dental mask sits next to her.

How does the service work?

Our team (consisting of dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants) visits rural and remote areas of South Australia and the Northern Territory to deliver dental services on a periodic basis – often for a week at a time. 

Our dental equipment is state-of-the-art and we offer a full range of dental care from simple check-ups, x-rays and hygiene services through to fillings and extractions.

Our clinics are not the typical dentist offices that you might find in the city– in South Australia we have set up clinics in our own RFDS Remote Area Clinics and in the Northern Territory we work out of a  purpose-built shipping container. We have even run dental clinics from rooms in outback pubs!

A woman wearing a RFDS shirt and dental masks sits next to a dentists chair. A young Aboriginal boy sits in the dentist chair. They are both smiling.

Can you describe a typical day?

It’s a cliché but there really is no typical day. That’s something else I value – I’m never bored! My role has two aspects – the coordination of the remote Oral Health program and also providing clinical care as a Dental Hygienist.

As a mobile service, there are significant logistics involved in planning trips where we essentially set up a dental clinic in remote outback communities. I research areas where our service is needed, then work with other health providers and promote our services to local people. 

There are many additional challenges working in remote areas, such as finding accommodation for our team (we’re often away for a week at a time) and ensuring the internet connection will allow us to access and update patient records. Then, when it’s time to go, I prepare and pack our instruments and equipment, ensuring this is within our aircraft size and weight limits.

In consultations, I carry out the tasks typical of a Dental Hygienist; cleaning teeth, providing periodontal care and maintenance, fluoride treatments and giving dietary advice if necessary. This is all coupled with lots of oral health education!

What are the highlights of the job?

Definitely the fact that we have such a strong focus on preventing oral disease – we have the opportunity to make a real positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing.

The travel is also a highlight – I’ve been able to see beautiful and remote parts of outback SA and the NT that I’d never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to visit.

Find out more about the RFDS Remote Oral Health Program in SA/NT