Dentistry students from the University of Western Australia (UWA) have been getting hands-on training in the Central Great Southern region as part of an initiative aimed at improving the long-term health outcomes of young children.

The students have been taking part in the Central Great Southern – Child Health Project (Dental Health and Food Security) program, which has been several years in planning, and which provides dental screening, preventive dental treatment and referrals for children aged from birth to four years of age.

183 children were screened at local day care centres, primary schools, playgrounds, and community meeting places, with UWA paediatric dental specialist Dr Jilen Patel carrying out assessment with the support of UWA dental students.

The majority of the children involved in the program had not previously visited a dentist. The program not only enabled dental checks but allowed the families to ask questions around oral health, tooth brushing, nutrition, and dental development.

Central Great Southern Early Years Partnership Local Working Party Co-Chair Jo Webb said good oral health can have a significant long-term, positive impact on the health and wellbeing of children.

“Locally, the rate of children aged from birth to four years of age who are hospitalised for oral disease is 2.85 times higher than the State average and a high rate of early childhood tooth decay has been observed by people working with young children in our community,” Mrs Webb said.

“None of our local dentists specialise in paediatric dental care and this project helps close the gap between local needs and available care.”

The dental team were also trialling the use of tele-dentistry by taking photos of the teeth of participating children on a purpose-built app to help plan and coordinate treatment. It is hoped this will provide an effective method for early identification of dental issues.

At the next visit, the team will also train local health staff and families to take photos for ongoing review, which will help build local capacity and pave the way for the program to become a long-term, sustainable service.

“We’ve received some wonderful feedback from local families following the first visit, which is testament to the collaborative effort that has gone into creating a service that meets the unique needs of this community,” Mrs Webb said.

She credited Dr Patel’s enthusiasm and passion for the program with its success, saying “not only has his passion made the program possible, but his manner with the children also made them and their families very comfortable during the screening process”.

“He was willing to see children as they played on slides and playground equipment and performed magic tricks to help put them at ease.”

The participating dental students benefited by gaining experience with the birth to four age group, seeing a variety of dental health conditions, as well as gaining exposure to rural practice and the sense of community in country WA.

The program has been made possible via the Early Years Partnership, a 10-year partnership between the Western Australian Government (Departments of Communities, Health and Education) and Minderoo Foundation, with funding primarily sourced from Minderoo Foundation and Rural Health West.

The initiative is also supported by Telethon Kids Institute and Amity Health.

Original article written by Freya Lucas and published in The Sector, Early Education, News, Jobs and more, on 8 MAY 2023.


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