Filling the Gap | Dental Charity | Give the Gift of a Smile
Australian Dental Health Foundation volunteer
Dr Andrews and Dr Fernandes have been donating their time and practice facilities at Dental on Clarke for more than a year. They each see one patient per week and complete the full course of treatment required from initial consultation to completion for as many appointments as required.
“We are aware that we have both been so blessed with our lives in terms of our education and family support – financial, practical and emotional. Not everyone is so lucky to have such a solid base to spring from,” Michelle said.
“There are patients with complex mental health issues, medical and social histories that can be confronting or impact the ease with which you can provide treatment but the cause is worthwhile because we have the skills to help patients improve their health, confidence and prospects. To be honest, it doesn’t feel like we are giving that much. It is what we love doing every day in our jobs. It is so rewarding to see the joy and increased confidence that our treatment can provide. It really is a positive and life affirming experience.”
Dr Gratiaen has been a volunteer for many years, with opportunities taking him to Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. He has worked in ‘Filling the Gap’ clinics in Cairns, conducted workshops for Queensland Health, and donated his time to several ADA volunteer clinics.
Paul spoke about his experience at the ADA NSW/ADHF clinic in October. “I had a patient referred through a Salvation Army initiative who was very apprehensive, horrified to see the dentist – I could see the fear in her face. She hadn’t seen a dentist for many years due to anxiety. All of her upper anteriors were destroyed. I asked the patient to take a few deep breaths. Slowly she obliged with the help of music playing through her earphones, and gradually the expression on her face changed as she began to trust my treatment.”
“Following a series of extractions, the patient asked if she could see me for future treatment. The charity offered to transport the patient from Wollongong to the Central Coast NSW Health clinic I practice in, a distance of 180kms. With a request like this, and seeing the change in her face as I was able to relieve her of pain, I don’t think I could expect a better reward. It is experiences like this that prompt me to volunteer.”
Dr Andrew Dean was first involved with volunteering through UK-based charity Bridge2Aid, working in Tanzania and other South African countries to provide training to local hospitals and healthcare workers with a focus on sustainability. At a conference in February, Pacific Smiles founder Dr Alex Abrahams made a donation pledge that inspired Andrew to volunteer closer to home. He has since been a regular contributor to the ADHF Adopt a Patient and Dental Rescue Day programs through Pacific Smiles Group.
Pacific Smiles Town Hall has provided a central location for Dental Rescue Days held once a month from June this year, working primarily with the Neami Way2Home charity. “Way2Home provides specific support for the homeless trying to get back on their feet, helping with housing, education and health. However, there was no access to dental care. We are able to offer a one-stop shop, which also helps cut public hospital waiting times by relieving pain without referral to other clinics,” Andrew said.
Andrew was impressed by the facilitation offered by the Foundation. “I was quite blown away with how much ADHF take care of. I thought there was going to be a whole lot more work involved. I confirmed the available appointments and ADHF did the rest of the work in terms of liaising with the patients and case workers. I arrive with a patient list and medical history in advance. All a dentist needs to do is get a chair and an assistant.”
Dr Dean described his volunteering as highly rewarding, especially when treatment becomes a life-changing milestone for patients. “I have a patient who’s been a real success story through Way2Home. He has not had any upper teeth for about three years. He was so excited with his denture trial a few weeks ago that he is now looking at job interviews. This is something so basic that we can provide but the change in his life is going to be huge. I’m so excited for him making this final leap into employment.”
Anne from the Women’s Justice Network charity spoke about the impact of dentures supplied by Dental Care Australia for her client. “The work has been absolutely life changing for Frances. She has not been able to wipe the smile off her face,” she said. “Frances left her last appointment smiling and could not stop taking selfies. She sent photos of herself to all her friends and family. Her confidence has sky rocketed and she will forever be grateful for the assistance after spending the last four years embarrassed to smile and experiencing pain and difficulty eating. Thank you for making such a difference to her life.”
Emma has volunteered with ADA NSW Red Cross Clinics four times over the last three years, attending her fifth in December. ADA NSW has been running the Red Cross Clinics over the past ten years to help asylum seekers who cannot access mainstream treatment. “The Red Cross Clinics are fantastic both for experienced dental assistants and for dental students wanting to gain more hands-on experience in the industry,” she said. “The responsibilities for dental assistants are very similar to those in private practice – procedure setup, chairside assistance, surgery change over, wipe-downs between patients, radiograph preparation. You might note I didn’t include sterilisation! We are very blessed to have two wonderful ADA NSW staff, Hayley and Gitti, who assist with sterilisation and radiograph processing.”
When asked about her most rewarding volunteer experience, Emma recalls assisting a five-year-old boy from China who had several decayed teeth requiring treatment due to soft drink consumption. “The dentist and I were able to turn restoring his teeth into a fun ‘game’, continuously chatting with his mother and putting them both at ease. His mother was so grateful for the successful restorations, and the dentist and I were able to provide dietary advice through drawings and analogies. It was such a good feeling to be able to provide care and see them both empowered to take control of their own oral health.”
“If you are up for a challenge and like to learn from experienced dental practitioners, volunteering is a great way to expand your skills, dental knowledge and provide care to individuals that are most vulnerable in society.”
Dr Pinchback is the ADA NSW Red Cross Clinical Coordinator, and is consistently involved in volunteer opportunities including oral health promotion at community centres, pre-schools and daycare centres. “Every volunteering position offers a unique opportunity to engage with the wider community and is hugely rewarding,” Jane said. “I’ll always remember the smiles of the asylum seeker patients who come back for repeat treatment visits – they are so happy and grateful for all the wonderful care they receive.”
Dr Nash has donated his time to ADA NSW Red Cross Clinics and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Clinic – established to enable people with physical and other disabilities access to specialist oral care. A volunteering advocate, Martin explains the experience not only benefits the deserving recipients, but the contributors too. “It can provide the volunteer with a meaningful reset of why they are in healthcare in the first place,” he said. “It is, in my experience, a space where good people tend to collect and the mutual respect, support and goodwill in the process is a bonus reward that comes with helping someone who really needs it.”
Hayley has been involved in a number of ADA NSW Red Cross Clinics as well as the ADHF Dental Rescue Day held at St Leonards. Her role is to help with the overall proceedings of the day, ensuring the volunteer dental team is providing the best possible care to patients. Responsibilities include re-processing of instruments and processing x-rays. “It is often a completely new working environment for the volunteer dentists and dental assistant, so I help them locate particular instruments or materials to keep the day running as efficiently as possible,” Hayley said. “It’s a tremendously rewarding experience working on a charity day. I love seeing how happy the patients are when leaving the clinic. I absolutely encourage anyone considering volunteering to get involved, the other volunteers you will meet on the day makes it worthwhile in itself!”
…Seeing the change in her face as I was able to relieve her of pain, I don’t think I could expect a better reward.Dr Santhiapillai (Paul) Gratiaen
It is so rewarding to see the joy and increased confidence that our treatment can provide. It really is a positive and life affirming experience.Dr Michelle Andrews and Dr Amelia Fernandes, Dental on Clarke Crows Nest