Regional dentistry

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regional dentistry
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More and more young dentists have relocated to regional areas for valuable career opportunities in the past decade, including practitioner Dr Parshad Sankey who says making the move offers a professional experience that city jobs simply cannot match. By John Burfitt

When just two years after graduating from dental school, Dr Parshad Sankey gave up a good job in an Adelaide dental practice to relocate to a regional area 130km away, he didn’t need to explain to colleagues his motives for doing so.

Dr Sankey, who graduated from the University of Sydney School of Dentistry in 2021, spent his first year in professional practice working at the Maven Dental clinic in the South Australian town of Clare. The next year, he returned to his hometown of Adelaide to gain some city experience.

He lasted there 12 months only to return to Clare earlier this year as Associate Dentist at Maven Dental. His decision to do so was met with little surprise from his fellow graduates.

“When we were about to graduate from university, there was so much talk about regional being the place to go because we were told that’s where we would be offered the best career experience,” says Dr Sankey.

“A lot of my colleagues I graduated with also moved to regional areas and are still working there and loving it, and like me, are doing so to gain the most widespread experience during these early years of our careers. Of our class, those working in metro areas are in the minority.”

The move to regional and rural areas by young dentists is a trend that has been gaining momentum in Australia in the past decade. 

According to a 2022 report ‘Increasing Dental and Oral Health training in rural and remote Australia’, a sample investigation of the practice location chosen by Australian dental graduates in 2015 showed those from rurally focused universities were more likely to practise in regional and remote locations.

A lot of my colleagues I graduated with also moved to regional areas and are still working there and loving it, and like me, are doing so to gain the most widespread experience during these early years of our careers. Of our class, those working in metro areas are in the minority.

Dr Parshad Sankey, Maven Dental

Those same students also showed a ‘greater interest and awareness of rural opportunity’. Rating high on the list of reasons for such a trend was the clinical experience on offer and the quality of mentorship.

According to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ‘Oral health and dental care in Australia’ report, the number of dentists per 100,000 in regional areas increased from 41.1 in 2013 to 45.3 in 2019. 

This doesn’t mean there’s no longer a shortage of dentists working in regional and rural Australia. However, says Dr Sankey, younger dentists do have a much more positive view about working outside of major cities.

“When many of the dental companies came to speak to students about the range of career opportunities, there seemed to be this general understanding that working in a regional or a rural location offered a breadth and depth of experience that  may not be available at a metro clinic,” he recalls.

His own experience bears this out. “That’s why I moved back to Clare as I want to learn as much as I can in these first years out, rather than stagnating which is what I felt was happening in the city. As good as the Adelaide clinics I was working at were, the work just wasn’t as interesting.

“In a regional clinic, there is so much variety, and the complexity of what you face on a daily basis means I’m expanding my skills all the time. I also have had to upskill to meet the demand for more challenging procedures.”

Dr Sankey adds there are some big differences between the issues facing regional patients and those facing their urban counterparts. One is the oral health impact of fluoride deficiency. 

One of the main reasons I came here was with the aim of becoming a better dentist so I can offer a broader range of services for people in this community, so they don’t feel they have to travel all the way into the city to get the oral health care they need.

Dr Parshad Sankey, Maven Dental

While Clare’s town water has fluoride, a large proportion of locals who live on the land have a water supply sourced from rainwater, without fluoridation.

“We see a much higher kind of decay and complexities so we do more work on educating patients about preventative measures and explaining what they can do in upping their level of good oral health care, like using a toothpaste with a higher fluoride rating or explaining the value of a brushing regime we call ‘spit but don’t rinse’,” he says.

“It’s a matter of explaining this is a long-term maintenance strategy, not a one-off quick fix, and most of our patients understand that. I also have seen pretty good regular attendance from patients, so we get to know them well. It’s a close-knit community and you get to understand you have a role to play within the community. I like that feeling of being  involved in helping people take some control of their health.”

At present, Dr Sankey works four days a week in the clinic, and devotes the rest of his time to additional CPD and study, particularly in implant restoration.

“One of the other dentists here does some work in Invisalign and implants, and he’s been guiding me as I think they are important areas to know for the years ahead,” he says. 

Exploring a broader range of oral health care is, Dr Sankey explains, all part of a comprehensive career strategy to become better skilled in these early years of his career.

“One of the main reasons I came here was with the aim of becoming a better dentist so I can offer a broader range of services for people in this community, so they don’t feel they have to travel all the way into the city to get the oral health care they need,” he says. 

“I see myself staying in Clare for quite a few years yet and what I have found here is a balance that allows me to be busy in the clinic, but also have the time to keep studying and learning. I made a commitment to this town as well as to my career when I moved here, and for me, it’s been a very good move.”  

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