Buff and polish for Bourke's oral health

4 May 2012

Dr Steven Naoum and Dr Andrea Lenard treat a patient.
Dr Steven Naoum and Dr Andrea Lenard treat a patient.

The art of cleaning and protecting teeth is taken for granted, claim University of Sydney dentists, and there is a need to refocus on basic oral hygiene skills particularly in remote Australia.

Faculty of Dentistry experts have developed the Bourke Indigenous Dental Health Initiative in an effort to reverse the trend of poor dental health in the region.

Drs Steven Naoum, Andrea Lenard and Peter Salameh will make regular visits to the Bourke Aboriginal Health Service during 2012 with a team of final year Bachelor of Dentistry interns to conduct the initiative which has been funded by the University of Sydney's Poche Centre for Indigenous Health.

In the initial phase of the project Dr Naoum worked closely with fellow dental clinician Dr Andrea Lenard and local Indigenous health workers to ensure the initiative was practical and culturally appropriate.

Dr Steven Naoum says his personal experience as a dentist in rural New South Wales gave him the desire to assist with dental services in remote Indigenous communities.

According to the latest figures nearly half of Australia's children aged five to six years have had baby teeth that rotted and more than 45 percent of children aged 12 years have decay in one or more of their permanent teeth.

"The statistics are even more alarming in lower socioeconomic and rural areas where as many as 70 percent of children have decayed or missing teeth, or fillings to their permanent teeth," says Dr Naoum.

"What I witnessed among the Indigenous population was not only a very high rate of decay, but decayed teeth that were more commonly left untreated making tooth extractions the only option.

"The Bourke Indigenous Dental Health initiative will extend the scope of dental care beyond the typical care. The program will offer preventive and education services and an integrated view of oral and general health specifically designed for the Indigenous community.

"Culturally appropriate resources about maintaining healthy teeth and mouths, and nutritional guidance on how much sugar are contained in certain foods and drinks will be available.

"We will also work with key groups in Bourke to provide a general anaesthetic service for dental procedures for the first time in many years. We have identified a need for replacing lost teeth in this community. Currently access to tooth replacement devices such as dentures is extremely limited. Tooth replacement is important because tooth loss can impair nutritional intake which can be an issue in Indigenous communities which experience a higher rate of diabetes in comparison to the wider population," says Dr Naoum.

"Another issue we will address during our visits is the number of Indigenous school children who play contact sport but do so without using an adequate mouth guard. There is a significant amount of dental trauma associated with sporting injuries in Bourke."

The initiative is scheduled to run for five years with funding from the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health. Australian philanthropist Greg Poche funded the establishment of the Poche Centre at the University of Sydney to improve the health of Indigenous people.

Dr Steven Naoum and his team will arrive in Bourke on Monday 8 May.

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