Graphic: At the base of Uluru, the RFDS is working together with the Aboriginal Community of Mutitjulu to promote healthy smiles and happy lives.
At the base of Uluru, the Flying Doctor is working together with the Aboriginal Community of Mutitjulu to promote healthy smiles and happy lives.
Since March 2020, the RFDS Remote Oral Health Care team has been flying into the community, working in partnership with Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and the local Anangu, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people to deliver treatment, preventative care and health education.
While initially running clinics in Mutitjulu over a couple of days, RFDS Senior Dentist Dr Vaibhav Garg said the team now stays in community for up to two weeks due to the uptake from locals.
“We have little kids that run over as soon as they see the dental truck, and when they see us coming in, they want to have their teeth checked and their fluoride toothpaste put on their teeth,” he said.
“We have mums bringing in all of the family. We have sisters, aunties and elders who come in and ask us what sort of message they can be helping to pass on about good oral health.
“When you spend time with the Mutitjulu community, and they start to tell you their connection to this place and the stories and the culture that’s linked to this place… that is the ultimate privilege.”
Across Central Australia, centuries of Dreaming stories have been told about Uluru. The sacred site is known to traditional owners as the resting place for the past ancient spirits of the region.
Many of these stories hail from Mutitjulu, which is home to around 300 residents including senior Anangu Traditional Owner, Leroy Lester.
When Leroy first began experiencing issues with his teeth, he immediately panicked about his health given his isolated location.
“I really thought I had a bone disease, so then all alarm bells were ringing and I had to come straight to the dentist – that’s the number one thing why I come here for a check-up,” he said.
“They (the RFDS) come out to community so that saves me a 600km trip driving into town. Then they got X-ray here too.
“To me the RFDS is a very good help for not only Anangu people, but everybody in the outback. Dentists are just one aspect of a whole range of medical services that they do.”
Temiah Randall-Cross and her family are regular patients of the RFDS’s fly-in Oral Health clinic at Mutitjulu.
The 12-year-old has become well-acquainted with preventative care and is one of many community members spreading the message to others about the connection between oral health and general wellbeing.
“The thing I like about the Royal Flying Doctor Service is that they can just come out – you don’t have to make appointments in advance, you can just go up to them and ask if they’re free,” she said.
“Marci (RFDS dental hygienist) was telling me today if you don’t brush your teeth, the germs and all that can stay on your teeth and then you get cavities.”
In the last 12 months, the RFDS has delivered 38 multi-day Oral Health Outreach Clinics in remote communities across Northern Territory and South Australia, treating a total 1,664 patients.
Working from clinics, vans and even landing strips, Dr Garg said the team encompasses emergency-focused treatments as well as a preventative program proactively targeting at-risk patients living with diabetes and chronic disease.
“It’s an amazing success of what we can achieve when we work with community partners,” Dr Garg said.