Defence health capability deployed to assist Pilbara Aboriginal communities

2017 09 28 Kummundoo

As part of an Indigenous health initiative, Exercise Kummundoo 2017, Air Force dental specialists from Health Services Wing, including members of DEFGLIS, were deployed to the Pilbara to offer assistance.

Two dental teams provided 527 services to more than 100 Indigenous patients over four weeks in an effort to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous oral health, in collaboration with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

Based out of Roeboume's Aboriginal Medical Service, the Mawarnkarra Health Service, personnel delivered comprehensive dental services including extractions, fillings, topical fluoride and other basic treatments otherwise unaffordable or unavailable in the area.

Without public dental assistance, the closest facility for the community is a private practice 40km away. Complex cultural barriers, a lack of transport and the absence of a full-time dentist in Roebourne have contributed to systemic oral health problems.

Roebourne has featured widely in the news as a community in crisis and recently named as one of Australia's most socially disadvantaged Indigenous communities.

However, within the community, there is a push by organisations, Elders and community members for positive change and Air Force's presence provided dental care to hundreds in a time of much need. 

Senior Dental Officer FLTLT Luke Pitty said it was personally rewarding to be able to contribute towards closing the gap.

"Although we were in Roeboume for only a short time, it was great to see that we already had changed the lives of patients," said Pitty.

A number of community engagement programs focusing on educating children were conducted including the rollout of a school-based dental initiative at Roeboume District High School in line with the National Oral Health Plan.

Additional health, nutrition and oral hygiene programs were carried out with the PCYC, the Gurlu Gurlu May a Family Centre and One Tree Day Car Centre.

Dental discussions offered invaluable information to mothers at One Tree Day Care. One mother, Janneil, said it was an eye-opener.

"I was really shocked to hear some of the things talked about - especially about wiping down baby teeth. That is something I'd never heard of. Now that we know more I'll try to encourage my kids to brush regularly," she said.

Janneil said although it was an awful practice, soft drinks in bottles were regularly used to quieten babies. Her nephew had most of his teeth removed by pre-primary school age because of the practice.

Additional community programs Air Force attended included hearing from Indigenous community members about culture, the region and cultivating vegetables and healthy cooking.

The importance of good nutrition was demonstrated during visits at the PCYC where personnel cooked and served wholesome meals to children.

Article by Brooke Marshall for Air Force News, Image by Department of Defence.

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