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April 2015

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Dental Health Services Victoria Aboriginal liaison officer Carleen Miller.

Dental health services help close the gap

Tooth decay is about one third more in Aboriginal children according to Dental Health Services Victoria.

The data was collected by Dental Health Services Victoria based on patients visiting public dental clinics in 2013/14.

DHSV Chief Executive Officer Deborah Cole said while the dental health gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians still existed, great progress had been made.

‘We have worked very hard to reverse the trend and the figures are looking positive,’ Dr Cole said.

‘Ten years ago, our data showed that Aboriginal children had almost twice the number of teeth affected by decay compared with non-Aboriginal children.

‘That difference is now 30 per cent, meaning that although Aboriginal children still have higher levels of oral disease, the gap is closing.

‘Part of that reason is improving access to dental care.’

The Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne has seen a steady increase in its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, thanks to the its efforts to bring better care to the community.

One of them is introducing an Aboriginal liaison officer in 2007 to greet and support patients and their families receiving care.

‘We had only 50 Aboriginal patients visiting the hospital in 2007/08 and, in 2013/14, we treated more than 1,100 patients.

‘This story is reflected in public dental clinics across the state,’ Dr Cole said.

‘Our Aboriginal liaison officer Carleen Miller provides support to our Aboriginal patients and also liaises with agencies to make sure they can access the services in the best way possible.’

Dental Health Services Victoria’s unique Indigenous Dental Assistant Traineeship program has also been hugely successful so far with two of its graduates being the first Aboriginal students to be accepted in La Trobe University’s dentistry program.

‘We want to create a culturally-inclusive team that can meet the needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

‘More and more Aboriginal Victorians are accessing care in our public dental clinics and we want to make sure we can provide dental access to even more in the community,’ Dr Cole said.