In the small town of Bourke in northwest New South Wales, it is common to find young children whose teeth are severely decayed. Adults similarly suffer significant decay and often have missing teeth. With the nearest denture-fitting facility more than 370 kilometres away, many people must endure the difficulties which come with having no teeth at all.
This dental health crisis is by no means confined to Bourke. According to recent surveys, as many as 70 percent of children in low socioeconomic or rural areas across Australia have decayed or missing teeth, or fillings in their permanent teeth.
Dr Steven Naoum is determined to reverse this trend. Every month he and two students from the University of Sydney travel to Bourke to hold free dental clinics for the local community. The students play an integral part in the clinical work. Over the two days they spend in Bourke, the team performs around 100 procedures for 20–30 patients: an incredible workload.
Why does Dr Naoum do it? “To meet a real need in the community.” It echoes his belief in the medical responsibility of dentists. “Dentistry is not just about routine check-ups in the Eastern suburbs. It’s helping those who really need it, and educating the next generation of practitioners. Our students need that real-world exposure, so they are informed about the choices they can make after they graduate”.
The Bourke dental health program would not exist without the generosity of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health. Based at the Sydney Medical School, the centre was established through a donation from businessman Greg Poche. At the time, it was the largest philanthropic gift ever presented to the University of Sydney by a living individual.
The primary aim of the Poche Centre is to contribute to the elimination of disparities in Indigenous health and social justice outcomes. Since its inception in 2008, the centre has formed strong relationships with Aboriginal Medical Services, health providers and communities in Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett, Dubbo, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, delivered a range of clinical services, sponsored research projects, published articles, and hosted forums.
Dental care is just one of the services supported by the Poche Centre. Cardiologists, occupational therapists, ENT specialists, and speech pathologists also make regular visits to remote towns, bringing essential health care services to those who can least easily access them.