Teeth to the bush

At the program launch (from left): David Gonski, NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, Clyde Thomson of the RFDS and David Clarke of Investec.

Outlying rural communities in New South Wales will benefit from an innovative oral health care program funded in partnership with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), an Australian bank and a family philanthropic foundation.

Launched this week by NSW Premier, Hon. Barry O’Farrell, the dental service known as “TOOTH – The Outback Oral Health and Treatment – Program” will provide much-need assistance to disadvantaged remote locations in NSW.

The $2.5 million funding needed to ensure its viability for the first three years will come from a unique partnership between the Investec Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Investec Bank (Australia) Limited (Investec), the Gonski Foundation and the RFDS.

In its first year, the TOOTH Program will conduct 128 dental clinics and dental therapy clinics in the western NSW communities of Bourke, Collarenebri, Goodooga and Lightning Ridge.

Investec Bank Australia Chief Executive, Mr David Clarke, said the TOOTH Program brings to life the philosophy and aims of the Investec Foundation and illustrates the Bank’s commitment to support a wide range of worthy causes in education, entrepreneurship and health.

“Without doubt, there is a dire need for dental services in some of NSW’s most remote communities and the Investec Foundation is pleased to play a key role in oral healthcare,” he said.

Chairman of Investec Bank Australia, Mr David Gonski AC, said he and his wife, Orli, had established the Gonski Foundation ten years ago with the sole purpose of giving back to the community.

“Philanthropy means giving for the public good where the focus is on quality of life, so we are delighted that through this initiative much-needed oral health services will now be available in outback communities in NSW.

“The three-way partnership between the Investec Foundation, the Gonski Foundation and the Royal Flying Doctor Service is a wonderful example of how a large corporation, a private family and a leading not-for-profit organisation can come together to make a significant difference,” Mr Gonski said.

He said that Australia has benefited from the recent growth in Private Ancillary Funds, particularly when working together with the corporate sector and helping provide for areas in need.

“We see ourselves as seed funding a vital service that could attract further Government investment, once it’s proven successful,” Mr Gonski said.

Although the Royal Flying Doctor Service is best known for emergency flights with medical patients, today some 80 per cent of its operations are centred on delivering vital primary healthcare services to remote communities.

The TOOTH Program will be the first such service out of RFDS’ Dubbo base, which recently underwent a $1.6m upgrade.

Executive director of the RFDS, South Eastern Section, Mr Clyde Thomson, said his organisation has been operating a very successful dental program from its Broken Hill base since 1999 and is keen to replicate this in Dubbo.

“The advantages of this type of innovative and pragmatic model are that it allows us to address outstanding health issues with urgency” Thomson said.

President of the RFDS South Eastern Section, Mr John Milhinch OAM, said he hoped the dental program would develop into a full public/private partnership with the NSW Government as an investor and partner.

“It ticks all the ‘policy boxes’ in terms of dental health and also complements very successful programs operated by the Aboriginal Medical Services among others,” Mr Milhinch said.

The newly-launched TOOTH Program will not only provide oral healthcare but also train rural dentists through collaboration between RFDS and Charles Sturt University. By working under supervision, dental students will be able to gain valuable experience as well as providing clinical assistance to the dentist.

RFDS Statistics show that dental health is a major issue in Australia, with almost 50 per cent of children aged 6 or under having signs of tooth decay, between 40- 57 per cent of 12–15 year old teenagers found to have some history of decay in their permanent teeth, while over 70 per cent of adults experience some form of outstanding gum or dental issues.

Poor dental health has also been linked to other conditions such as such as bad nutrition, cardiovascular disease, stroke, low birth weight, pneumonia and diabetes.

“We seek to be a positive influence in all our business activities, in each of the societies in which we operate. We are proud to be partners in this very worthwhile initiative,” said David Clarke.


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  1. Until more effort is made to empower Australians to help themselves through informed decision-making TOOTH is still The Outback Oral Health and Treatment program – merely another TOOHT. This proud initiative deserves success through education . Another toot is exactly the opposite of what is required to deliver the remedy for decades of neglect that has resulted in a vast majority of us suffering a preventable disease process.


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