Final-year dentistry students from Charles Sturt University in Australia have been providing oral health screenings, promotion, and essential treatments to more than 50 aged care residents in Canowindra as part of a new training program.
Created by Charles Sturt’s School of Dentistry and Health Sciences and the Three Rivers University Department of Rural Health (Three Rivers UDRH), the program trains students in providing a range of dental assessments and treatments using portable dental equipment.
Residents of the Moyne Aged Care Centre in Canowindra were the first patients to take part in the program, which aims to reduce barriers to accessing oral healthcare for vulnerable groups by providing no-cost, on-location dental services.
Sixteen students based at the university’s Orange campus have successfully completed rotations in the program since February this year. On average, five or six students completed a four-week rotation at Moyne, attending two days a week.
Christine Howard, director of Three Rivers UDRH at Charles Sturt, said the program represents an opportunity to expose dental students to vulnerable older residents in rural communities and is quite a shift from the usual placement opportunities that occur in a formal dental clinic environment.
“This initiative combines both service delivery and student learning and provides invaluable opportunities for at-risk members of communities who may experience lack of access to dental care,” said Howard.
“This innovative program has provided our students with a unique opportunity to provide patient-centered care in a community setting and has been very well received by both students and patients,” said Howard.
“We are very pleased with the program’s outcomes so far, in spite of the temporary setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we hope to expand the program to provide other vulnerable groups in different regional locations with access to oral health services,” said Andrew Flatau, head of school at the Charles Sturt School of Dentistry and Health Sciences.
“Access to dental care in vulnerable communities is a major issue that this innovative program seeks to address. The program aligns with Charles Sturt University’s strategy to build communities and the capabilities of the regional healthcare workforce,” said Flatau.
“Through working more in challenging environments, away from a structured clinical setting, students further develop their professional and interpersonal skills, their resilience, and the capability to treat all patients empathetically and as individuals, which are all essential attributes for successful practice,” Flatau said.
It’s not just students reaping the benefits of the mobile dentistry placement program, as Moyne Aged Care manager Roxane Sciberras said the facility’s residents also were pleased with the student dental visits.
“This program has been absolutely fantastic,” said Sciberras. “The residents appreciated the time the students took with their oral healthcare, and we look forward to continuing our association with the program in 2021.”
By participating in the program, students meet some of the clinical placement requirements in Charles Sturt’s Bachelor of Dental Science course.
An evaluation of the program is underway to explore the impact of the service delivery on all stakeholders. The evaluation will inform future models and initiatives to expand the learning and practice opportunities to help other vulnerable groups in different locations access dental therapies.