Wendy and Karleigh

Graphic: Wendy and Karleigh

Meet RFDS Western Operations dental assistant Karleigh Barbour

Date published

05 Aug 2019

To mark Dental Health Week (August 5-11), we'd like to introduce you to Karleigh Barbour, a member of the Royal Flying Doctor Service Western Operations dental team who travels far and wide across the state to ensure people living in remote communities have access to essential dental health services.

Karleigh Barbour and her young patients

Driving along the iconic landscapes of outback Western Australia and encountering bulls and other wildlife while on the way to visiting patients is the norm for Karleigh and the RFDS Western Operations dental team.

Having worked for the RFDS for the past two-and-a-half years, Karleigh revels in taking critical dental health services to some of the most remote and isolated communities in Australia.  

The RFDS Western Operations dental team, made up of four dental assistants and five dentists, provides free dental treatment at nine locations across the Goldfields, Midwest and Kimberley region.

This includes Perenjori, Mingenew, Morawa, Wiluna, Warburton, Broome, Derby, Kununurra and Halls Creek.

Karleigh said the most rewarding part of the job is knowing she is making a real difference in the lives of her patients.

“I remember my first work trip away, I was bursting at the seams with pride at how amazing this job was and to be providing a service to those who need us the most,” she said.

Karleigh said besides geographical distance, people living in remote communities typically face barriers such as the relative high cost of dental treatment, a lack of awareness around the importance of oral health, and not having the population size to support a full-time dentist.  

“For some people living in rural and remote communities, they may have never been shown how to brush their teeth or have never visited a dentist before,” she said.

“When dental services are not available, people often visit hospitals and local GP’s to access dental care and are left in continual dental limbo with no positive outcome.

“The team and I travel far and wide across the state educating people on the importance of good oral health and provide the best dental treatment in town. How amazing and rewarding to be a part of the bigger picture!”

Playing a pivotal role in bridging the rural health gap, Karleigh said building rapport and trust with locals is a critical component of the job.

“Every location we visit, we liaise with the local shires, hospitals, schools, aged care facilities and early learning childhood centres to spread oral health awareness in the community,” she said.

“We’re seeing significant change in these communities through our education programs and activities held at local schools, with increased awareness and engagement in oral health and lower tooth decay rates in children recorded.”

Karleigh said it’s always heart-warming to be embraced by locals who welcome the team into the community with open arms and often invite them to participate in local events.

She’s also very popular with her young patients, having mastered the art of balloon twisting.

“I often get invited to play a game of footy with the kids, help out at the local barbecue, share dinner with my new friends and I even get lifts home from locals who want to ensure my safety. How amazing are our Aboriginal friends in Wiluna!,” she said.

“The positive response I receive from the community when they see me in my uniform never fails to make me feel proud to work for the RFDS.”

During the last financial year, RFDS Western Operations reached and treated 1,682 patients through dental health clinics across the Goldfields, Kimberley and Midwest regions of WA.