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Otago’s free dental clinic provides vital care

Tuesday 9 August 2022 11:05am

Jamie Marra and Lisa Ung Hanson image
Dr Jamie Marra and Dr Lisa Ung Hanson.

More than 100 patients suffering from a range of dental issues have received care by volunteers at a series of free clinics at the University of Otago’s Dental School.

For the past four Sundays, the dedicated team has treated more than 100 adults suffering from chronic oral health neglect. The patients – many of whom had to attend multiple clinics – were referred from Dunedin’s only free healthcare clinic Servants Health Centre.

The clinic volunteers include dentists from private practice alongside Dentistry Faculty house surgeons, oral health therapists, dental assistants, sterilising staff, supervised dental students and administration staff. 

Senior House Surgeon with the Dunedin clinic, Dr Jamie Marra and Professional Practice Fellow with the Department of Oral Rehabilitation, Dr Lisa Ung Hanson, co-led the delivery of this year’s free clinic.

Dr Marra has been a key organiser since the first clinic, when she was a dental student. She remains amazed at the life-changing effect the service has for patients.

“Many patients have been relieved of chronic pain and discomfort. Some reported that their confidence was restored, and they were able to smile again, and others were motivated to seek job interviews and attend social groups and outings. They all report being treated with kindness and respect,” Dr Marra says.

Most of the patients cared for in the clinic have multiple dental problems and had not visited a dentist for years because of the cost. Treatments included fillings, extractions, care for abscesses and infections, and some patients now have new dentures and plates.

Dr Hanson says the clinic has a goal of sustainable care. As well as receiving treatment, patients will be enrolled with an accessible provider of their choice for follow-up of ongoing needs and maintenance.

“The purpose of the clinic is not to create a group of patients dependent on this free care. The clinics address their urgent needs and gets them engaged and communicating with health services again. We inform them of their choices and give them ownership to keep up with maintenance and be part of our community oral health system,” she says.

A first-time clinic patient, Duncan McKenzie, was put at ease by the “relaxed and welcoming atmosphere”. He says Servants Health Centre and the dental clinic are having a huge positive impact on his life.

“It is so important for people trying to improve themselves to be shown support. A lot of people just aren’t used to getting support and get put off asking for help,” Mr McKenzie says.

Faculty of Dentistry Dean Professor Paul Cooper commended the staff, students and volunteers from the community.

“I am immensely proud of the team who are transforming people’s lives. The Faculty and University are very keen to support them.”

The clinic received a $14,000 grant from the New Zealand Dental Association Community Service Grants programme.

The team hope to continue running the project next year and expand the service if more grant funds can be accessed.

While this is not a routine clinic for the Faculty of Dentistry, it has provided low-cost dental care for the community of Otago and Southland for many years, which also gives students the opportunity to build up their knowledge and skills through treating patients under supervision. The Faculty is also contracted to provide publicly-funded dental services and some of these contracts are targeted to disadvantaged and low-income groups.

For more information, contact:

Dr Jamie Marra
Dental House Surgeon
Dental Clinic, Faculty of Dentistry
University of Otago
Email jamie.marra@otago.ac.nz

Lea Jones
Media Engagement Adviser
External Engagement
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 4969
Email lea.jones@otago.ac.nz