The dental profession has a long and proud history of working in the community to promote the importance of oral health and the critical role it plays in a person’s quality of life. This focus extends well beyond a practitioner’s immediate community to the health care needs of disadvantaged people, both at home and abroad.
This National Volunteer Week, which runs from 20 to 26 May, we’re celebrating members of the dental profession who have stood up to make a difference, in their local communities, around Australia and the world.
Today, we profile five of the growing number of dentists and practices that are putting up their hand to help disadvantaged Australians in need of oral health care through programs such as Dental Rescue Days, the Adopt a Patient and Rebuilding Smiles® programs, run by the Australian Dental Health Foundation (ADHF), which is dedicated to addressing the inequality between those Australians who can access the dental care they need, and those who can’t.
DR HITESH GUPTA (THE SMILE FACTORY, NSW)
Although he had assisted with various charitable causes in the past, it was only when Dr Hitesh Gupta volunteered with the ADHF that he was able to put his dental skillset to use to help others.
During their first Dental Rescue Day in 2017, Dr Gupta and his practice were able to provide 30 disadvantaged patients with pro bono treatment. The experience made a lasting impression on the Smile Factory team. Not only have they hosted many more Dental Rescue Days, but they have also continued treatment for a number of patients through the Adopt A Patient program.
“For many years I have worked in private practice in Newcastle. After establishing my own practice, I wanted to give back to the local community. Being an active part of the local community has given me a greater sense of belonging. I’m raising my young family here and wanted to add value to the place we call home”, reflected Dr. Gupta.
DR LUDHARA HETTI (NORWOOD VILLAGE DENTAL SA)
Having previously volunteered with dental projects in Cambodia and Sri Lanka, Dr Ludhara Hetti first got involved with the ADHF’s Adopt A Patient program last year. As she explained, “My workplace approached me with the opportunity to volunteer with the Foundation and what appealed most was being able to follow through with a patient’s complete treatment plan”.
Her first patient was Sharon (not her real name), a disadvantaged woman who did not feel comfortable smiling due to the appearance of her teeth. Over the course of her treatment, Sharon’s outlook was transformed. “She went from covering her mouth when she spoke or laughed to taking selfies in the dental chair when her treatment was complete. Prior to treatment, she was unable to find work due to her appearance and it’s lovely to know that by fixing her smile I have given her the opportunity to improve her situation” described Dr. Hetti.
DR JILLIAN FISHER (NATIONAL DENTAL CARE, QLD)
The lead dentist at her practice, Dr Fisher put her hand up to volunteer with the Foundation in December 2018. As her first experience with volunteering Dr Fisher hosted a Dental Rescue Day at her practice and has gone on to provide continuing treatment for two patients through the Adopt A Patient program. When asked why she decided to volunteer with the Foundation, Dr Fisher explains that it was a sense of giving back that inspired her to get involved.
“We are in a very privileged position to have access to private dental and medical care. Many people in our community are not that lucky and poor dental health can have an incredibly detrimental effect on a person’s mental and general health. It was a great opportunity to give back to the community and those who really needed it.”
DR ZARA TORRE (WA DENTAL ELLENBROOK / SOUTH PERTH DENTAL EXCELLENCE, WA)
Following her first experience of volunteering at a Homeless Connect Day in Perth, Dr Torre now volunteers her time through the St. Patrick’s Community Support Centre dental clinic in Fremantle, which provides dentists with the opportunity to volunteer their time and expertise to assist the local community. Dr Torre says that her motivation for volunteering was connected to a lifestyle change after having children that saw her shift from being focused on working six days a week to thinking more about ways to give back and the “Homeless Connect day seemed like a good way of dipping my feet in”.
When asked about what attracted her to volunteering with the ADHF, Dr Torre explains, “I think as dentists we all are called to this profession not purely because of a bottom line, but because we genuinely care about our patients and the outcomes that we tangibly create.
“For me, the mandate of the ADHF to work with homeless people and victims of domestic violence (most often the most marginalised or forgotten members of our society) aligns with what it means to be a good dentist. Collectively as dentists, we are uniquely positioned to change lives for the better.”
DR JANE McCARTHY (APPLECROSS PERIODONTICS, WA)
Another stand out for the Foundation has been the development of their collaboration with the Women in Dentistry (WID) Clinical Volunteering Program which is focused on providing women who have experienced the devasting impact of domestic violence with access to dental care.
Dr Jane McCarthy, one of the founding volunteers of WID, said she felt that “if I could, in our local community in some small way help support these courageous women we treat, then it was really a question of “why not” rather than “why” volunteer?”.
Since she treated her first patient in July 2018, Dr McCarthy has been working alongside general dentist volunteers in the WID group to provide initial periodontal assessments as part of the treatment planning process. She then provides the treatment that is required with emphasis on the importance of oral hygiene to maximise the benefits of periodontal treatment and prepare them for their restorative phase of treatment.
The ADHF is grateful to all the dentists and practice staff who make a world of difference by volunteering. We applaud your generosity and commitment to helping disadvantaged Australians in need of dental care.
The ADHF acknowledges the ongoing support of our major industry sponsor, Pacific Smiles Group; the significant support of the wider dental industry around Australia, and the ADA.