At 66-years of age Dr Andrew (Robert) Parsons has sold his Nelson Bay dental practice but regularly still picks up his tools of the trade for Filling the Gap. “I am not working now, although I don’t yet describe myself as retired,” Dr Parsons said who believes FTG is aptly named. “I know that there are many people who miss out on access to dental care for a variety of reasons, such as financial, or not qualifying for public health care, or due to language barriers,” he says. “The program literally fills that gap in access to care. I am just happy to be in a position to help meet some of that need, the program’s organisers make that possible by their input and I am proud that the ADA makes the physical facilities available.”
After attending his second clinic Dr Parsons sees FTG as a learning opportunity. “Solo private practice dentistry can be isolating, so it is enlightening to see how other dentists deal with common problems. Also as an older dentist I admire the level of knowledge of younger operators. And no matter where the patients come from, their problems are the same across all cultures and backgrounds.”
“Volunteering is something I have wanted to do for a long time and now my circumstances allow it. I still enjoy exercising my professional skills but now I can do that away from a commercial environment, and just focus solely on the patients’ needs. “It is professionally liberating, and the bonus is the outcome for the patient. Also I see it as a way of providing a positive message to patients who are new to our country, who may be very socially anxious and uncertain, and isolated by language, or traumatised by life experiences, that they are cared for and valued.” Dr Parsons says: “Make the time to volunteer. You have nothing to lose, and those you help will have gained so much.”
Bobby Goldsmith Foundation Case Worker Corrie Diamond supports people living with HIV who have complex needs or challenges in their lives. Ms Diamond helps her clients to navigate their way through a range of complex health and social systems. Since October 2019 the foundation has connected several clients in need of dental treatment to Filling the Gap (FTG). “When we first contacted our clients about the opportunity to be involved in the FTG service, we were overwhelmed with people wanting to be involved – so much so that we had a waiting list for the first few months,” she said. “The demand for help is mainly focussed on urgent dental work such as relieving dental pain. Many of our clients are in need of dentures.”
“FTG very generously offered us full access to one of their chairs for the 2019/2020 clinics. The first clinic (held in October 2019) was a great success. Eight of our clients were treated and we received fantastic feedback from all of our clients,” she said. Ms Diamond said the foundation was really fortunate to be a part of FTG and greatly appreciated the support of FTG in her work to plan, advocate and support the needs of clients any way they can.
“I was really impressed with both the service, professionalism and compassion shown by the FTG team. All the clients involved have only said good things about the service which is a great result from our point of view!” she said. The foundation’s clients are people living with HIV (PLHIV) who comes from all walks of life – a very diverse population. New HIV cases have been growing among populations such as overseas students, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, migrant communities and heterosexual men and women. The foundation, with the support of FTG, ensures everyone who walks through the door gets support they need.
As a service supporting people who have experiences of human trafficking and modern slavery, we find that many of our clients have not had access to dental care for long periods of time and may be experiencing daily pain for treatable dental issues. Most of our clients are temporary visa holders and asylum seekers, some of whom are unable to access government benefits.
Our clients who have attended the ADA NSW Filling the Gap clinics for free dental treatment over the past 2 years have expressed relief and gratitude to have accessed this service. Clients say that the treatment they received was friendly, caring and professional, and that receiving this dental work has been a very positive experience, improving their daily quality of life.
It has been a pleasure for our service to work with the friendly and dedicated ADA NSW staff members.
Senior Case Manager, Trafficking and Slavery Safe House
The Salvation Army
Feeling like a healthy and valued member of society is difficult for many of Franco Orsatti’s clients who are homeless. The people he serves as a Housing Support Worker at The Station rely on Mr Orsatti’s team to ensure dignity and respect as well as access to critical community and health services. “Arranging appointments and arriving at a dentist can be difficult and daunting for someone who is homeless and who doesn’t regularly access health services,” said 56-year old Mr Orsatti, who accompanies clients to Filling the Gap clinics to offer moral support.
“Receiving dental treatment is important but many of our clients are dealing with drug and alcohol abuse so teeth often aren’t a priority and they miss out on any attention.” Mr Orsatti says his clients are always happy after Filling the Gap clinics. “Many homeless people I work with have only ever been to a dental hospital and had bad experiences with long waiting times and had feelings of being discriminated or had trouble advocating for themselves,” he said. “Coming from a shelter environment a lot of our clients have very bad teeth. It takes some effort to talk clients into the possibility of caring for their own needs,” he said.
“Many homeless people do not feel equal to everyone else but our clients are happy to attend ADA NSW clinics because Filling the Gap volunteers are happy and friendly to our clients. ADA NSW volunteers make patients feel important and fix their teeth too.” “One client of ours did not have teeth for more than 20 years, then got dentures from ADA NSW. You just can’t imagine the difference that makes in someone’s outlook for life.” Mr Orsatti said several clients from The Station experienced ongoing dental pain and have been very relieved to get treatment. He encourages everyone to be understanding to people who are homeless.
“Most people without a home have had a rough time and they deserve adequate and secure accommodation, a healthy outlook as well as personal autonomy and dignity,” he said. “The Station is grateful and happy to have ADA NSW’s support to help our clients,” he said. “Our clients feel a certain comfortability knowing that the ADA clinic (caters) for the homeless unlike the dental hospital were the clients feel judged by staff and the public so they don’t end up attending appointments,” he said. Of the 76 clients from The Station who have signed up for dental services since 2018 Mr Orsatti says 103 appointments have been made with Sydney clinics, including many with ADA NSW. “Our clients need to be encouraged to go and see a dentist making Filling the Gap a perfect option for people who are homeless, especially when transport is organised for them because many homeless people don’t have an Opal card.”
Keeping busy is important for Dr Oliver Coleman. The semi-retired former dentist has participated in ADA NSW run dental charity clinics via the Red Cross, Filling the Gap and Dental Rescue days and has also worked as a locum with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. “I’ve always liked to work as a member of a good team. I enjoy the comrade of working with people who like doing what they were trained to do,” says Dr Coleman. “Since selling my practice I’ve found volunteering is a great outlet which helps me connect more and help others,” he said.
Meeting and working with fellow volunteers at Filling the Gap clinics has helped him form a positive view of the giving nature of modern day dental professionals. “Many volunteers are motivated by wanting to ‘give back’ but I’m most impressed and want to emphasise with what volunteers actually gain by helping others,” he said. “Providing treatment for people who cannot get it is rewarding and Filling the Gap provides the same standard of professional services as that offered in private and public systems to people who really need it.”
Preventing people falling through the cracks of the public health system is what motivates Filling the Gap volunteer, Victoria Mitchell. Growing up with little access to dental health care Ms Mitchell knows first-hand how difficult it can be to overcome barriers which can stop people accessing treatment they need. “I believe programs like Filling the Gap are play a great role in helping people that may otherwise miss out on dental treatment,” she said. Ms Mitchell volunteered at two clinics in 2020 and sees her time as a real learning experience.
“This is a great opportunity to do something valuable with my time and skills,” she said. “I believe many people become accustomed to their routine and Filling the Gap is a way for us to see all kinds of people, with different stories and many clinical cases that we otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to,” she said. “I feel great learning new things while helping people at the same time. It’s really a privilege to participate and be a part of Filling the Gap. It’s a wonderful program. “The patients are so grateful and it’s a very wholesome feeling to share in.” Anyone considering volunteering their skills will not regret it, says Ms Mitchell. “You’re not only helping others by providing your skills but you’re helping yourself to learn and grow,” she said.
Charles Bartella trained overseas before becoming an Australian Dental Council candidate. “Filling the Gap is a great initiative which encourages the private dental work force, in particular, to provide valuable support for the community through ADA facilities as a starting point,” he says. “I’m happy to be involved anyway I can help!” Charles first volunteered with Filling the Gap in July 2020. He says his motivation to support the ADA NSW charity was the inaccessibility of dental treatment for many members of the community.
“The demand to access the dental public service is soaring and waiting lists are incredibly long. I believe, as a member of this amazing NSW community, it is my duty to stand up and provide help where I am able to. “If I ever find myself or someone I know in need in the future, I am confident volunteers will help provide all the support I may need.” His advice to dental professionals considering volunteering: “Just go for it!”
Since volunteering to assist at a Filling the Gap clinic dentist Harriette Slatyer can’t imagine why others in the profession won’t do so too. “I recommend Filling the Gap to anyone who can make time to volunteer,” said the Sydney dentist who volunteered as an assistant. “Filling the Gap was a well-run, organised and relaxed environment where I felt very productive,” Dr Slatyer said. “There were so many parts of the program and the clinics which I saw work really well on the day from the perspective of patients and volunteers. I’m very keen to be involved as much as I can in the future.”
“Working with a new team, using new equipment in a new setting at ADA NSW, helped give me confidence that I can do all of the right things a patients needs even in an unfamiliar setting,” she said. “Volunteers are not thrown in the deep end and make a real difference to patients who really need help. Since studying dentistry I’ve been blown away by the generosity and professionalism of experienced dental professionals to advise new comers to the industry and that spirit was also an aspect of the clinic,” said Dr Slatyer. “I volunteered assisting and watching experienced clinicians, helping them with some complex treatment planning, it was great to be a part of how quickly treatment plans and options are presented to patients,” she said. “Volunteering with Filling the Gap was one day out of my week but for patients it can be a life changing day, sometimes after years of pain or waiting for treatment, so to be part of that significant step is just great!”
Dr Michelle Ever Juan links her renewed sense of community belonging to her volunteer role as a dentist with Filling the Gap. “Being part of a community who is willing to help others gives me a sense of belongingness,” says Dr Ever Juan. Volunteering at a Filling the Gap clinic, which offers treatment to patients who are facing barriers to receiving dental treatment, is something Dr Ever Juan continues to learn from, professionally and personally. During her rostered days off from the Bondi Junction surgery where she works Dr Ever Juan enjoys volunteering with Filling the Gap due to the social nature of the clinics and fellow volunteers.
“Filling The Gap gives me the chance to share my skills and experience with the community beyond what I perform at my own workplace. Filling the Gap is an outlet for being social at work which I believe needs to be nurtured further in our field,” she says. “I have learned the value of increased openness and communication through Filling the Gap and it has enriched my experience of helping people. Volunteering provides me with a chance to practice my skills and learn from the wonderful staff and patients that make the clinic possible,” she said. Dr Ever Juan began volunteering with Filling the Gap in February 2020 after she read an article published by ADA NSW. And her advice to other dental professionals who may be thinking about volunteering? “I would highly recommend sharing your time and skills through Filling The Gap, it provides a service that our society is always in need of: reaching out to the vulnerable and providing care that makes a difference. Who doesn’t want to be part of that?”
While Roberta Vodola was waiting for her dental registration to be approved she sensed a real need and want to provide care to others. “While I was not working Filling the Gap let me be volunteer as part of a team of like-minded people who are ready to provide dental care to others in need,” she said. Italian born Roberta volunteers for Filling the Gap because she wants to “give back” to her new home country and the NSW community. “I feel I belong in Australia more because I offer my time and expertise without expecting anything in return,” she said. Roberta plans to give at least a day per month volunteering for Filling the Gap.
Already she has helped to improve the oral health of a range of people who are facing barriers to access treatment. Many patients who Roberta and other volunteers provide treatment for rely on support services and charities in order to cope. “I always hope to build a good rapport with patients and to be able to help them at my best and give them a reason to be positive,” she said. “I believe at the end we are all humans but some of us are less fortunate in life than others!” Her advice to anyone thinking about volunteering: “Stop thinking and just do it!”