TOOTH results are in

Dr Hendrick Lai of the Royal Flying Doctor’s TOOTH program.

The first official results are in from the Outback Oral Treatment and Health (TOOTH) program—recently launched by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and covered in the July issue of Bite magazine—and it’s showing the depth of need for the program.

“The significant levels of untreated dental decay we found in both adults and children in all four communities support the widely-held view that Australia is experiencing a gap in dental care,” said TOOTH dentist, Dr Hendrik Lai. TOOTH delivers regular dental clinics to the remote communities of Collarenebri, Goodooga, Bourke and Lightning Ridge in the Upper Western Sector of NSW.

“We found significant levels of dental decay in children from all four communities that were on average some five times higher that the national average.”

“I was surprised to see that oral health in these communities hadn’t improved in line with the rest of the Australian population, which is now enjoying better dental health.”

“However, there were some positives. Our statistics show that the “D” or decay score we give patients’ teeth when we assess them, is reducing slightly, while the DMFT score remains static, meaning there is no new decay. We want to get to a point where we are doing less extractions, fillings and root canals and more preventative or maintenance work.”

After only 4 months of service, results show that TOOTH:

  • Delivered 57 dental and dental health clinics.
  • Performed 1,025 services including, 618 preventive services, 174 fillings, 147 extractions and 13 root canals.
  • Treated 417 patients, 168 of whom identified themselves as Indigenous Australians.
  • Recorded that over half the patients seen by the dentist had not been able to access, or had not sought dental care in over 2 years.
  • Found significant levels of untreated dental decay in adults and children in all four serviced communities – levels of untreated decay being significantly higher in children than in the rest of the population.
  • Provided treatment valued at $78,140.20 (based on the Commonwealth Department of Veteran Affairs Dental Fee Schedule) or some $120,000 at private practice rates.
  • Completed its first training clinics with dental students from Charles Sturt University, the University of Sydney and Griffith University.

“Although statistics show that Indigenous Australians represent 29.5 per cent of the local population, almost 50 per cent of clinic patients identified themselves as Indigenous, suggesting a large unmet need. It also illustrates that promotional campaigns and partnerships with local Aboriginal  community health organisations are working.”

The TOOTH program has been made possible by a unique partnership between the Investec Foundation, the Gonski Foundation and the RFDS SE Section, who have all recognised the need to urgently address dental issues in rural and remote areas.

The program is operated by the RFDS South Eastern Section, with the $2.5 million funding needed for three years being provided by Australian specialist bank Investec, through its charitable foundation, the private philanthropic Gonski Foundation and RFDS donors.

In its first year, TOOTH, which operates from the RFDS base at Dubbo, will conduct 256 dental clinics. Half of these will be for children in North West NSW, serving a vital need for the estimated 1,000 school age children who have irreversible tooth decay.

TOOTH has also started to deliver on another of the key aims of the program – to train more rural dentists. Eighteen dental students from Charles Sturt University, Griffith University and the University of Sydney have recently completed their practical clinic training. Two students at a time spent three days at various remote communities assisting Dr Lai during the clinics.



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