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30 Sep 2015 | Australasian Dental Practice

news > Spectrum > Page 26

National Dental Foundation fills oral health gap

By David Petrikas

Philanthropy, Charity and Volunteering

The National Dental Foundation (NDF) is continuing to fulfil a valuable role in providing pro bono dental care for those who have "fallen between the cracks" of the public health system.


A newly revitalised committee in Victoria is managing a large number of cases involving patients with quite severe dental conditions who have been unable to afford or access public or private dental services.

Those dental practices involved are reporting very rewarding personal experiences that have made a real difference to patients who have previously endured years of neglect and poor oral health status as a result of their circumstances.

NDF Victorian chairman, Dr Peter Waltham of Sandringham Dental Practice, took over the reins of the NDF in Victoria in June 2014, in succession from departing foundation NDF member Merv Saultry, who retired from the post after 10 years in the chair.

Dr Waltham has been joined by Brunswick Dentist principal, Dr Michael Togias; industry representatives, Pam Clarke from Cattani Australia, Alldent General Manager, Naomi Thomason; and Ian Crawford from CMA Ecocycle. State coordinator, Susan Johnston, works with the Committee and local charities to help source and organize patients for the foundation.

National Chairman, Dr David Digges, leads the NDF in NSW with other states around Australia also conducting similar operations under the NDF banner. Recently the NDF has welcomed the states of Tasmania and the Northern Territory to the team in providing pro bono care to the underprivileged members of their communities.

Dr Waltham commented that whilst the NDF was in good shape in Victoria, the NDF needed to continue to attract additional volunteer dentists to give a little of their time to put back into the communities in which they operate.

The NDF has strived to develop relationships with the ADA federally as well as its state level to help encourage the NDF ethos through ADA affiliation and events to broaden the exposure of the NDF to ADA members.

Dr Waltham regularly contributes at ADA Victoria meetings as well as speaking to graduating and recently graduated dentists with the aim of raising awareness of the Foundation and its work.

"We are also encouraging late career and retired dentists to explore the possible opportunities that might exist for them to 'give back' from the positions of privilege that they hold in their communities. The ADA branch groups are helping to raise awareness of the volunteering potential among these groups," Dr Waltham said.

In Victoria, the NDF State Coordinator Susan Johnston does a great job of connecting dentally compromised members of registered charities such as Anglicare and St Vincent de Paul with dental practitioners. Those people whose dental health needs are not being met by the public dental system or who are unable to afford private dental care, are the target group for NDF pro bono care.

Participating volunteering practices hold "Dental Rescue Days". These days may be once or twice a year, perhaps two half days or even a single patient a month, slotted in between regular private patients. The Dental Software Program Praktika has donated free online cloud-based management to the NDF which provides participating volunteer practices with an appointment list and medical histories of patients, plus any previous treatment alerts.

This helps prioritise and trace treatments and assists volunteers to create a treatment plan for the patient, as well as schedule future appointments where more than one visit is required.

Dr Waltham said many patients in need of dental care were unaware of how to access community health, were on long waiting lists, or drop out of the public dental health system because they move house or otherwise lose contact.

"Some are in very unfortunate circumstances and live chaotic lives and the focus of the NDF is to assist those in need by giving them a bit of a 'leg-up' rather than a 'hand out'. This can make a huge difference in the lives of some patients with unsightly dentitions or inadequate dental function, which makes life a struggle.

"Some people have had problems for several years and it is a real boost for them to come into a nice classy dental practice and be respected with 'red carpet' treatment. The experience is transforming for them and some break into tears and give you hugs for what you do for them.

"Some of these people can't even chew and eat normally and to have someone give them that basic ability shows someone cares and it can be an emotional experience for them and us."

Dr Waltham said NDF patients were a different demographic to what was typically seen in private practice, but were treated the same, although the restorative work required was often more complex and provided good experience in itself.

"Some practices will 'adopt' a patient and follow them through their treatment. We got a young girl back for a root canal treatment and then a final restoration as part of the scheme. Some dentists will get patients back for crowns and dentures and really engage with the patient to make it happen for people."

Dr Waltham said there were some natural synergies with the NDF and participating organisations that resulted in a 'win win' for both parties. Dental technicians and laboratories are part of the volunteering scheme, which is a great help as many patients are in need of dentures or prosthetic devices.

While some of the more severe cases compared with Dr Waltham's previous volunteer experience in third world countries, some patients accessing the NDF scheme basically had good teeth and just needed a good clean. However, there was a wide spectrum of cases in the scheme.

Dr Waltham said NDF served as a type of insurance for those falling through the public health net and not getting any care at all. By volunteering their services, dentists help those particular people which results in improved health outcomes for the community.

"You can't separate oral health from the health of the rest of the body and part of the scheme includes handing out NDF information packs to help people take better care of their oral health."

Suppliers from both large companies such as Colgate, Henry Schein Halas, Cattani and individual dental equipment companies such as Melbourne A-dec dealer, Alldent, supported the packs. These companies donate in both cash and kind with consumables and supplies and also by providing volunteer staff to help run the scheme.

"This donation reduces the costs for the volunteer dentists, as they don't have to supply their own composite resins and prosthetics for the NDF patients, which really helps.

"The NDF is well structured and organised and the growth of this service in Victoria has been really strong over the past few years. The number of volunteers and patients has tripled with 22 'rescue days' held in the past year.

"It's just a case of giving a small amount of your time each year to give a lot back and make a difference to those who would otherwise miss out and suffer poor oral health and social outcomes," Dr Waltham said.


More information is available from the ADA in each state or call Susan Johnston, Victorian State Coordinator (Mondays and Wednesday only) on 0417-466-636.


The National Dental Foundation in Victoria can be contacted c/- Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch Inc, Level 3, 10 Yarra Street (PO Box 9015), South Yarra VIC 3141, call 1300-880-978 or www.nationaldentalfoundation.org.au

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