Graphic: Christmas Appeal

We're making people smile this Christmas

Date published

18 Nov 2021

Imagine getting a toothache, one of those excruciating toothaches that stops you eating and sleeping, but there’s no after-hours emergency dental service or even a dentist on the island.

Graphic: Dieter Haberstagg

For the residents of the Bass Strait islands this can be the reality, and the reason that Royal Flying Doctor Service Tasmania regularly sends across a dental team.

Our dentist, dental therapist and dental assistant work wonders. 

The clinic is always fully subscribed and the patients are grateful they have the ability to receive dental work without travelling off island and without any out-of-pocket expenses.


Graphic: Dental team on King Island

It’s a similar story for those living in the far east, north-east, north-west and west of the State – our dental teams visit regularly and because patients have previously struggled to see a dentist, the number of treatments for each person is averaging 14.

As part of the mobile dental service on King Island, RFDS Tasmania also employs dental prosthetist Russell Brownlie and his wife, Meg, a dental assistant, to take care of denture requirements.

The costs associated with flying our teams to Bass Strait islands and their accommodation, as wellas moving dental teams around the State by road, purchasing equipment such as X-ray machines,endodontic motors and handpieces plus every day consumables, and setting up the denture laboratory on King Island, is why we are asking you to support this year’s Flying Doctor Christmas Appeal.

Dieter

For one King Island resident, 80-year-old Dieter Haberstatt, his oral health issues could not have been more serious. 

Diagnosed with cancer in his jaw, the past 12 months have been traumatic.Dieter underwent a 19-hour operation to remove the cancer, involving taking bone from his hip to replace the gap left in his jaw bone. Unfortunately, complications led to a second 3-hour operation to take the boneout, followed by a skin graft from his chest to his mouth and cosmetic surgery to remove excess tissue from his neck.

The procedures were physically and mentally taxing and he lost many of his teeth in the process and he also lost the ability to eat solid food.

Following a visit from the RFDS dental team, a plan was made to try to build dentures - despite Dieterhaving a quarter of his jaw missing.

Dental prosthetist Russell Brownlie said that what stood out to him the most was that despite being on the road to recovery, Dieter’s eating capacity was around 20 per cent.“He could only eat soft foods, there was no ability to chew,” he said.

“It was extremely difficult but we were able to make dentures that accounted for his missing jaw bone and now his eating ability is around 80 per cent - he can eat most foods and can chew his food, even an apple - this is a big difference!”

Dieter, who escaped the rat race in Sydney more than 20 years ago to live on the island he had grown to love, understands that there are limitations to services in remote areas but acknowledges that dental care isessential for overall health and to avoid what can become life-threatening medical problems.

He is grateful for the quality of life the Royal Flying Doctor Service has been able to give back to him – the simple pleasure of eating that most of us take for granted.

And his family loves to see his smile.“If the dental team wasn’t flying in I don’t know how I could have afforded getting to the mainland at least five times for appointments,” he said.

“This is a very innovative and crucial system and there are areas around the State, that need more mobile dental care so that people don’t put off problems until it’s too late.”