March heralded the opening of the RFDS Remote Oral Health Care Service in Mutitjulu, a remote community located at the base of Uluru in Central Australia.
It marked the Flying Doctor’s second oral health service location in the Territory, following last year’s successful service introduction to the community at Kintore, over 600 kilometres east of Alice Springs near the NT/WA border.
An additional dental service was also introduced in South Australia in September, as the RFDS Remote Oral Health Care Service commenced appointments from Leigh Creek Area School.
Senior Dentist Vaibhav Garg said there has been increasing demand for oral health support and over the past year, the RFDS Oral Health Care team has held more than 600 scheduled consultations across SA and NT.
“When we advertised that we were visiting Leigh Creek, the entire week was booked out in two days,” Dr Garg said.
“Even though patients really wanted to visit the dentist, they may have found it difficult due to distance, finances, not being able to find a babysitter for an entire day, or may not have had the knowledge to assess when they should attend.”
It has been a rapidly changing time for the RFDS Remote Oral Health Care team, which has continued to assist patients in remote areas despite COVID-19 restrictions.
The Country SA Primary Health Network supported the roll-out of the RFDS’s first telehealth service for dental care. While not replacing hands-on treatment, it allowed the team to maintain connections with the communities it visits.
Pre-COVID-19, services were also significantly expanded in Marree to meet increased demand from the local community living around outback SA’s Birdsville Track.
Working from clinics, vans and even landing strips, the RFDS Remote Oral Health Care team has shifted from emergency-focused treatments to a more preventative program including proactively targeting at-risk patients living with diabetes and chronic disease.
“In many communities, we are finding increasing demand for our service. It’s much more than dealing with immediate dental problems – it’s about preventive dentistry and the children learning about caring for their teeth and healthy food choices,” Dr Garg (pictured right) said.
“We are now finding parents are wanting their children to learn more about oral health. The team teaches kids to sing the Tooth Fairy song and to play the ‘Happy Tooth, Sad Tooth’ game to engage children about taking better care of their health.
“We would like to create partnerships with schools to start a new toothbrushing program where we will encourage children to decorate a bag to keep their toothbrush so they can clean teeth at school.”
The RFDS acknowledges its valued partners for supporting the expansion of the Oral Health service, including South Australian Dental Service, Leigh Creek Primary School, SA Health Leigh Creek Medical Clinic, Pintupi Homelands, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Central Australian Oral Health Service and the communities of Walangurru and Mutitjulu.