North Richmond Community Health Centre’s Pearly Whites is a free aged care dental outreach program that has been operating for over seven years. They provide oral health check-ups and information to aged care facilities within the Inner North West Melbourne Medicare Local catchment.
In 2018, five hundred aged care facility residents were seen with over 25% requiring treatment and 40% needing professional teeth cleaning. Unfortunately, statistics show that very few vulnerable residents attend either a private or a community dentist, so Balwyn Rotary stepped in to assist with a solution.
Through significant club funding, a comprehensive range of dental equipment has been purchased so that portable equipment can be set up within aged care facilities to provide dental treatment on-site. The treatment is aimed at providing comfort and function, rather than ‘extravagant’ outcomes. It is an essential service to minimise avoidable health issues, such as aspirational pneumonia, by removing the infection associated with the bacteria clinging to the calculus build-up on teeth. There is also an emphasis on prevention of dental disease by specifically trained North Richmond staff educating the facility staff in necessary oral hygiene procedures. In reality, many residents do not even clean their teeth for weeks at a time.
Associate Professor Rachel Martin, who is now Head of the Department of Oral Health & Dentistry at Latrobe University Dental School in Bendigo, designed the Pearly Whites program. She is now setting up a partnership between the Dental School and North Richmond to involve senior students so that they gain supervised practical experience.
Balwyn Rotary has had fruitful discussions about this program with the Minister for Ageing, Luke Donnellan. He has remarked that this is a wonderful Rotary project that provides an essential service, not only to elderly Melburnians, but could be scaled up across Victoria and subsequently Australia-wide. Additionally, students in regional Victoria will be exposed to practical dental skills, as well as culturally and socially diverse communities to promote equity, health & wellbeing.
Balwyn Rotary members Drs Jim Cary and Brian McGuinness both volunteer dental services at North Richmond Community Health Centre.
If any club would like to know how to become involved in this project that can be extended to other aged care facilities, please contact Dr Brian McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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