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Two new student dentists join TI oral health team

7 February 2019

Two new final-year student dentists have started placements at the Thursday Island Dental Clinic, including the first Torres Strait Islander to come through the student dentist training program.

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Thursday Island Principal Dentist Dr David Griffiths said students Nickalus Saveka and Israel Needham from James Cook University would operate out of the TI Dental Clinic under senior dentist supervision until the end of May.

They will then be replaced by another two final-year student dentists from July through to October.

“The presence of Mr Saveka and Ms Needham means that the Thursday Island Dental Clinic will be able to offer 12 additional appointments each day except Monday,’’ Dr Griffiths said.

Dr Griffiths said both students also would be visiting Bamaga every two weeks and one outer island each before completing their placements at the end of May.

“I’d like to welcome both students to our health service and the region,’’ he said.

“Mr Saveka, of course, is no stranger to the Torres Strait.

“Although born in Cairns, his grandmother Ethel Morrison is from St Paul’s community on Moa Island, while his grandfather Athe Saveka is from Mer Island.’’

Mr Saveka said, at 35 years old, he had embarked upon his career as a dentist later in life.

Previously, he had worked in retail, construction and in the mining industry.

A keen footballer who played with the Cairns Brothers Rugby League Club, the physical stresses of playing football prompted him to stop playing at age 28 and consider a new career in health and fitness.

“Initially, I enrolled in the Cairns TAFE to study for certificates 3 and 4 in fitness and personal training,’’ Mr Saveka said.

“From there, I went to JCU and studied one year of sports medicine before then enrolling in dentistry.

“I am now in my final year and I am very happy with my career and the study I had to do to get this far. I taught myself how to work hard and became more mature with every year.

“Even though studying dentistry and going to university can be stressful, it has made me feel the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life.

“If I can say one thing, if anyone is thinking about studying you should try it.’’

Ms Needham was born and lived in Forest Hill, Brisbane, before moving to Toowoomba at the age of seven.

“I was always very physically active and was a competitive gymnast and represented at national championships in the pole vault,’’ she said.

“My active lifestyle and keen interest in human anatomy led me to consider a career in health at an early age.

“From the time I was in Year 9 at school, I knew I wanted to be a dentist and undertook work experience at a dental practice in Year 10. I moved to Cairns in 2015 to study after being accepted into the James Cook University Dental Program.

“I am now in my fifth and final year of dentistry and I selected to do my first semester of placement on Thursday Island.

“I am excited for my time here and look forward to exploring the Torres Strait.’’

Dr Griffiths said the first islands to be visited during this year’s round of visits would be Mabuiag, Badu, Warraber and Dauan, with others following progressively throughout the year.

He said the oral health team had a whole range of new portable equipment that it would be taking around the islands with it.

“First amongst the purchases are ultramodern portable dental chairs which are the same as those used by the American military and will be a big improvement on the old portable chairs,’’ he said.

“New operating carts providing the very latest in drill systems and new suction systems also will help make the patient experience as comfortable as possible.’’

Dr Griffiths said he urged all outer island residents to ensure their health concession cards were up to date so they could receive free public dental services.

He said public oral health services in the Torres and Cape HHS were 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 the Thursday Island Dental Clinic or at a visiting dental clinic on an outer island,’’ Dr Griffiths said.

“Our primary health care centre staff will be able to help you get your card up to date.’’

Dr Griffiths said he also urged clients who were not able to make an appointment to call up and cancel in plenty of time, so the appointment could be given to someone else.

“We have a high rate of appointments that are not attended that could be re-allocated to someone else if we are given at least 24 hours’ notice,’’ he said.

“When patients receive their appointment reminder text, we ask that if they are unable to attend to ring the dental clinic on 4069 0406 or 4069 0400 so the appointment time will not be wasted.

“This will enable us to ensure we can see everyone in a timely manner.’’

PHOTO CAPTION: Final-year student dentists Nickalus Saveka and Israel Needham are doing their placement on Thursday Island.

Last updated: 15 February 2019