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Reflecting on successes during Dental Health Week

26 July 2019

A pilot program on Thursday Island to provide dental assistant training opportunities for people who identify as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent is proving very successful.

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Principal Dentist Dr David Griffiths said Paris Bruce and Moana Ahwang had embarked upon a 12-month dental assistant training program in January and were progressing very well.

Dr Griffiths said the health service had been successful in an application for funding through the Office of the Chief Dental Officer of Queensland to deliver the training program.

“It’s obvious this traineeship program has been well-received and successful, so we will be applying for further funding to continue running it next year, so the same opportunity can be offered at one of our other major dental clinic hubs, such as Cooktown or Weipa,’’ he said.

Dr Griffiths said with National Dental Health Week being observed from 5–9 August, it was good to reflect on the successes of the Torres and Cape oral health team.

“The Torres and Cape HHS is absolutely committed to diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace and to delivering culturally responsive and inclusive healthcare services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,’’ he said.

“Part of this process includes investing in building the capacity of the Indigenous workforce within our region through the health service’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy.

“This is what we are doing with our oral health team workforce through initiatives such as the pilot dental assistant traineeship on Thursday Island.

“Indeed, since the formation of the Torres and Cape HHS in 2014, we have doubled the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff within our oral health team from four to eight, with seven staff currently based on Thursday Island and one in Weipa.

“Two of our Indigenous staff on Thursday Island – Olive Yusia and Fay Dewis – have been with the oral health team there for more than 20 years each, while our Advanced Health Worker at Weipa, Colleen Neilson has been with the dental team there for nearly seven years and is actually the longest serving member of that team.’’

Dr Griffiths said the Torres and Cape HHS had a total of 31 oral health team staff across the health service, based at the three major dental clinic hubs at Cooktown, Weipa and Thursday Island.

“Our staff comprises seven dentists – including our director of oral health – three dental therapists, 13 dental assistants, two trainee dental assistants, a health worker and five administrative staff,’’ he said.

“In addition, we also host two final-year dental students from James Cook University, who undertake a four-month placement twice a year at the Thursday Island dental clinic, working under senior dentist supervision.

“Earlier this year, we had students Nickalus Saveka – himself a Torres Strait Islander with links to St Paul’s community and Mer Island – and Israel Needham with us on placement.

“In July, we welcomed final-year students Cameron Suley and Fraser Lyon, who will be with us on their placement until October.
Dr Griffiths said the final-year student placement partnership with JCU allowed the Thursday Island dental clinic to offer 12 additional appointments each day except Monday while the students were doing their four-month terms.

“From our three hubs, our health service oral health team delivers dental services on site and through regular visiting outreach clinics to the Northern Peninsula Area, primary heath care centres on Cape York and the outer islands of the Torres Strait,’’ Dr Griffiths said.

“We operate what is probably one of the most geographically diverse dental outreach services in Australia and see an average of more than 770 patients a month throughout the region.’’

“Nevertheless, the delivery of good and timely oral health services is only one part of the story.

“As National Dental Health Week is promoting across Australia, individuals also must play their part by taking responsibility for looking after their teeth.

“Prevention is always better than the cure.

“A healthy diet, good oral hygiene including daily brushing and flossing, not smoking and regularly visiting the dentist can prevent dental problems from arising in the first place.’’

Dr Griffiths said a series of events would be held across the Torres and Cape HHS to celebrate National Dental Health Week, including:

  •  5–9 August: Cooktown Oral Health Team will be visiting parent groups and local
    playgroups to spread the oral health message and hosting a large display at Hope Vale.
  •  5–9 August: The Weipa and Thursday Island oral teams will be visiting local schools to
    deliver health messages.
  •  9 August: The Thursday Island oral health team will host a family day at ANZAC Park, with a visit from the tooth fairy, giant toothbrush, giant toothpaste and giant tooth. There will also be a sausage sizzle, oral health demonstrations and colouring competition. The new Oral Health Marquee also will make its debut.

Dr Griffiths said public oral health services in the Torres and Cape HHS are provided free of charge to children aged between 2-17 years and to eligible adults.

Adults who are eligible to receive services from the public oral health service are required to be a holder of any of the following cards:

  • Pensioner Concession Card issued by the Department of Veteran's Affairs
  • Pensioner Concession Card issued by Centrelink
  • Health Care Card
  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
  • Queensland Seniors Card.

“You need to ensure you bring your concession card with you, and that it is up to date, when you come in for an appointment at any of our hub clinics at Weipa, Cooktown and Thursday Island or a visiting dental clinic on an outer island or mainland primary health care centre,’’ Dr Griffiths said.

PHOTO CAPTION: James Cook University final-year dental students currently doing placement on Thursday
Island, Cameron Suley – left – and Fraser Lyon.

Last updated: 31 July 2019