Working towards a brighter smile

BENDIGO Health's Community Dental Services is a success story in the making.

The dental facility spans four levels at the Anne Caudle Centre campus and is a hive of activity.

Between 175 and 225 dental patients visit the services each week.

New graduates work alongside experienced dentists such as Jim Thomson, who started working in the public sphere after selling his private practice in Eaglehawk.

"I had a private practice in Eaglehawk from 1979 to 2013," Dr Thomson said.

"I've been working here on the teaching clinic for a few years, one day a week, and since I've sold my practice I've been working here with the patients two days a week.

"What I thought was going to be retirement didn't quite work out.

"I enjoy the teaching part and then I realised I had a bit more time on my hands and they asked me to come and work up here."

Dr Thomson said it was great working with the next generation of dentists.

"The good thing about these dentists here is they're in a situation where they get a lot of mentoring," he said.

"I'm very impressed with them."

Six new graduates work at the Community Dental Services - four of the six are La Trobe University, or Bendigo, products.

"Another was trained in Griffith in Queensland and the other in WA," program manager Graeme Allan said.

"But it's particularly pleasing to see the direct benefit of the Bendigo program because there was a lot of work and a lot of attention given to establishing a rural-based dental school."

Mr Allan said the Community Dental Services had four dental assistant trainees.

"We try to take two students at the beginning of the year and two in July," he said.

Rebecca Chamberlain, 18, is one of the trainees.

"It was something that sort of just turned up and I thought, 'I want that' - so I just went for it," she said.

"I love it. It's great."

Ms Chamberlain said it was an interesting job.

"You learn new things every day and then when we go to our school blocks we actually learn more as to why we do things in the clinic," she said.

The Community Dental Services has specific areas where Bachelor of Oral Health and Dentistry students hone their skills.

"They still treat public patients under the guidance of appropriately qualified people who supervise the care and the students provide the care in accordance with their capacity or training at that time," Mr Allan said.

"So if they're doing a clean, for example, they will have trained to have do that and they'll just do that. 

"If they're ready for something else, they'll do that."

Senior dentist Marietta Taylor said the students were well-trained, well-supervised and very eager.

"Here we only treat a fraction of the eligible population," she said.

"Many people only come in when there's a toothache.

"But we have such capacity here to see people.

"We are known for having a long waiting list but if people are happy to see the dental students, the wait is much shorter and there's no cost."

With World Oral Health Day fast approaching Dr Taylor said the message was don't wait until it's too late.

"Don't wait until you have a toothache," Dr Taylor said.

"Some people think, 'Oh nothing hurts, I don't need to go to the dentist'.

"But we now have the new child dental benefits scheme where children between two and 17 years of age are eligible of up to $1000 every two years for dental treatment.

"What we want to encourage parents to do is not to use it just when the child has a toothache, but to come in when there's no pain for that check-up and clean.

"We would say every 12 months.

"As soon as you get that letter saying you're eligible, call us and come in for a check-up before anything hurts."

World Oral Health Day is marked on March 20 with this year's theme Celebrating Healthy Smiles.

Dr Taylor said she could not stress the importance of preventative care enough.

"We see many toothaches, we see many emergencies, many people present when all we have left to do is pull the tooth," she said.

"What we want people to do is put their name on the waiting list so they can get a check-up, they can get preventative care.

"Come and see the students so they can learn how to clean teeth so we can hopefully catch it when it's just in the early stages, rather than someone coming in in pain.

"We have people presenting to the emergency department with toothaches because they've let it go so long rather than them breaking a filling and then coming in and seeing us."

Mr Allan said the oral health of people in rural and regional areas was traditionally poorer than that of people living in major cities.

"Limited access to services is one reason - there's more dentists available within metropolitan areas," he said.

"There has also been a slower take up of fluoride in the rural areas.

"It's not so much a problem in Bendigo but in some of our broader regions fluoride still isn't in all the water supplies.

"Diet is another one."

To make an appointment at Community Dental Services phone 5454 7994.

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