Dr Jamie Marra, and Professional Practice Fellow with the Department of Oral Rehabilitation, Dr Lisa Ung Hanson.
More than 100 people have received vital dental care, thanks to a team of volunteers using the facilities at the Dental School for a series of clinics over the last four Sundays.
The annual event provides free treatment to adults suffering from chronic oral health neglect, they are all referred from Dunedin's only free healthcare clinic, Servants Health Centre.
This was the third year the clinic's been held. This year it was co-led by Senior House Surgeon with the Dunedin clinic, Dr Jamie Marra, and Professional Practice Fellow with the Department of Oral Rehabilitation, Dr Lisa Ung Hanson.
Their amazing team included dentists from private practice alongside Faculty house surgeons, oral health therapists, dental assistants, sterilising staff, supervised fifth year dental students and administration staff.
Dr Marra has been a key organiser from the first clinic, when she was a dental student. She remains amazed at the life-changing effect the service has on 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,” says Dr Marra.
Most of the patients cared for in this 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.
A first-time clinic patient Duncan McKenzie says he was put at ease by the “relaxed and welcoming atmosphere”. He says Servants Health Centre and this 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,” says Mr McKenzie.
It was the first year Dr Hanson has been involved with the clinic. She left private practice to focus on public health and says this clinic has been a really rewarding experience.
She explains that an important aspect of the clinic is the 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.
Student volunteers at the recent Sunday dental clinic.
“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,” says Dr Hanson.
The clinic received a $14,000 grant from the New Zealand Dental Association Community Service Grants programme. Support from the Faculty of Dentistry Dean Professor Paul Cooper and Clinical Director Dr Pip MacDonald to be able to use the Clinical Services Building was also vital.
Professor Cooper says, “I am immensely proud of the team who are transforming people's lives, the Faculty and University are very keen to support them.”
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.