Student-led dental clinic improves oral health of rural Indigenous community

UQ student-led dental clinic
The UQ School of Dentistry clinic develops students’ skills in culturally appropriate dental care.

A University of Queensland study has found a student-led dental clinic in rural Queensland improved the oral health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by providing access to culturally appropriate and timely care.

The clinic at Dalby in south-west Queensland, opened in 2013 as a partnership between UQ’s School of Dentistry and the Aboriginal community controlled health service, Goondir Health Services.

Dr Sandra March from UQ’s School of Dentistry said each year the clinic treated approximately 800 Indigenous patients from Dalby and the Greater Western Downs region.   

“Oral health care is provided free of charge by fifth year students from UQ’s Bachelor of Dental Science (Honours) program under the supervision of registered, experienced dental practitioners,” Dr March said.

“This model offers benefits for both the students and the surrounding communities. By the end of 2023, more than 180 students will have completed a rural Indigenous clinical outplacement at the Dalby clinic.

“We found this powerful learning environment developed students’ skills and knowledge in culturally appropriate dental care.”

Associate Professor Ratilal Lalloo from UQ’s School of Dentistry said culturally appropriate and timely dental care is often not available to Indigenous people, especially in rural and remote areas.

“Indigenous people suffer from more caries, periodontal disease and tooth loss than non-Indigenous people,” Dr Lalloo said.

“We worked with Indigenous people from Goondir Health Services and local community groups to understand the barriers to oral health care.”

The student dental clinic was embedded within the Goondir Health Services premises in Dalby.

“Referrals for dental care are integral to Goondir’s holistic healthcare model,” Dr Lalloo said.

“The community reported increased knowledge of oral health, improved general health outcomes and better access to a culturally safe and appropriate model of care. We also found waiting times for the government-funded dental clinic were shorter, indicating our student clinic eased the burden on the public system.”

Goondir Health Services CEO Floyd Leedie said the unique partnership could be replicated across a range of allied health fields in regional and rural Australia.

“The two-way relationship between general and oral health and accessibility to both primary health care services and oral health services in one location reduces the chance of negative impacts to our clients’ overall health,” Leedie said.

The team has published studies in the Australian Dental Journal and The Australian Journal of Rural Health.

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