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Dental Student on Wheels

21 Jul 2016

Traveling in the purpose-built dental van to provide services in aged care facilities in the Port Macquarie region was a highlight for Jessica Zachar, a Final Year Dentistry Student at Charles Sturt University, during her rural placement.

My time on the van was an unfor­get­table expe­ri­ence dur­ing my four-week place­ment at the Mid North Coast Local Health Dis­trict (MNCLHD) in Port Mac­quar­ie. Hav­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­vide treat­ment to those who could not reg­u­lar­ly access a den­tist due to phys­i­cal and men­tal con­di­tions was both reward­ing and mem­o­rable. I saw a range of patients who had a vari­ety of needs such as relief of pain, gen­er­al checks up, extrac­tions, fill­ings and assess­ments for new dentures.

Trans­port is one of the biggest bar­ri­ers for the elder­ly in access­ing oral health ser­vices and the van bridges this gap by going to the aged care facil­i­ty itself. The half mil­lion-dol­lar pur­pose built den­tal van comes com­plete with a wheel­chair lift into the mobile surgery, a small wait­ing area suit­able for a car­er and stor­age area for equip­ment and instru­ments. As well as the wheel­chair lift for per­son­al chairs, it also has a reclin­able portable wheel chair for in-house visits. 

The van was com­mis­sioned by MNCLHD in part­ner­ship with the Cen­tre for Oral Health Strat­e­gy to pro­vide gen­er­al den­tal ser­vices to clients in such facil­i­ties. It began oper­at­ing in late 2012 and has since rotat­ed around the Mid North Coast region includ­ing Lau­ri­eton, Kempsey, Wool­go­ol­ga, Cam­den Haven, Coffs Har­bour and Port Macquarie. 

I can see that the den­tal van is a suc­cess­ful tool in address­ing oral health needs in region­al com­mu­ni­ties. I would like to see this ser­vice used in remote com­mu­ni­ties to close the gap in access to oral health services. 

The pub­lic clin­ic at the Com­mu­ni­ty Health Cam­pus has expand­ed in recent years with sev­en den­tal chairs cur­rent­ly oper­at­ing and as a result, has dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduced the wait­ing list time for the local community. 

It wasn’t all work dur­ing my place­ment: I also had the chance to con­tin­ue study – and also play. Port Mac­quar­ie has a Charles Sturt Uni­ver­si­ty (CSU) cam­pus in town. This allowed fel­low stu­dents and myself to video­con­fer­ence dur­ing lec­tures and tuto­ri­als based at the CSU Orange Cam­pus on Wednes­days. With such tech­nol­o­gy, CSU den­tal stu­dents have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to receive sup­port and men­tor­ship dur­ing their final year of den­tistry while under­tak­ing a full year of place­ment in dif­fer­ent region­al towns such as Bathurst, Wag­ga Wag­ga, Albury, Dub­bo, Orange and Port Macquarie. 

Week­ends con­sist­ed of explor­ing the coast with activ­i­ties such as camel rid­ing at Light House Beach, jet ski­ing by the marine and vis­it­ing the Bago Vine­yard Maze. 

I would like to thank CRANAplus for their sup­port and in par­tic­u­lar Zeitz Enter­pris­es for spon­sor­ing me dur­ing this rur­al place­ment. I look for­ward to grad­u­at­ing this Decem­ber and start­ing my career in rur­al Aus­tralia, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the pub­lic health sec­tor and this place­ment has fur­ther rein­forced how much I love liv­ing and work­ing in region­al and rur­al com­mu­ni­ties of Aus­tralia such as this one. 

Jes­si­ca is cur­rent­ly a final year den­tistry stu­dent at Charles Sturt Uni­ver­si­ty. She was pre­vi­ous­ly the Pres­i­dent of the CSU Den­tal Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion and was the Rur­al Offi­cer of the Aus­tralian Den­tal Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion in 2014. She is also the recip­i­ent of the 2013 Nation­al Rur­al Health Lead­er­ship Award for her pas­sion, work and com­mit­ment towards clos­ing the gap in oral health for rur­al Australia