Dalang Project brings healthy teeth to Far South Coast indigenous kids

Indigenous children on the Far South Coast should have great smiles and healthy teeth thanks to an innovative project funneling resources and training into the local Katungul Aboriginal Corporation Community and Medical Service.

The Dalang Project combines oral health service delivery, with graduate training and delivery of oral health promotion and obesity prevention in Aboriginal communities, and the project is made possible by the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health in the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Sydney.

Rachael Moir is senior project officer Oral Health (Research) at the Poche Centre and visited Katungal medical centre at Narooma last week to catch up with the recent graduates and see the project being implemented in the region.

“It is really exciting to be working with the team at Katungul and we look forward to the year ahead,” Ms Moir said.

The staff at Katungul Medical Service are very grateful for the support and the project as allowed dental therapist Kylie Tran to move and practise in Narooma for 12 months.

Working alongside her is dental assistant Stephanie Morris, who already has her Certificate III in Oral Health and is now working on her Certificate IV, while trainee dental assistant Jaydean Lonsdale is now working on her Certificate III.

Katungal’s dental coordinator Yvonne Stewart said the Dalang Project had allowed these two local women to receive training and start working on improving the health of their fellow Koori people.

“It’s contributing to the oral health of our people from Batemans Bay to Eden and the whole catchment areas of Katungal,” Mrs Stewart said.

“Their primary focus is working on the dental van that will visit as many schools as possible over the next 12 months while we have our dental therapist here.”

Mrs Stewart said Katungul medical service was very grateful for the support of the Poche Centre and the Dalang Project, which meant not only were people being treated but that young people were being educated about how to take care of their teeth and oral hygiene.

“We’re very grateful as it has enabled us to deal with the very high need that people have for dental treatment,” she said. “All our children need a lot more dental treatment.”

Ms Moir explained the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health was established and funded by philanthropists Greg Poche AO and Kay Van Norton Poche in 2008.

The Poches, along with their friend and co-founder Reg Richardson AM, had seen an opportunity for the skills, expertise and resources of the University of Sydney to be harnessed to improve Aboriginal Health.

The focus for the Poche Centre is on “Healthy Kids, Healthy Teeth and Healthy Hearts” and its approach is to ensure each project is guided by the principles of respect and collaboration; following a collective impact process; and incorporating service delivery, service learning, workforce development and research, Ms Moir said.

“Our work is informed by evidence about what works, both from a community capacity building perspective and a prevention, early intervention, treatment and rehabilitation perspective,” Ms Moir said. “As always we work in partnership with communities, Aboriginal health services and local organisations to develop unique responses that meet the particular needs of the communities.”

The Dalang Project is a collaboration between Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District (NBMLHD), Centre for Oral Health Strategy (COHS), the Rotary Club of Sydney and the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health.

In February, seven oral health therapy graduates were allocated to a host Aboriginal Medical/Health Service. Majority of the graduates moved away from their family and friends and will embed themselves into their new communities for one year.

This year, Katungul Aboriginal Corporation Community and Medical Service has been welcomed to the Dalang Project.

“Dalang” is a Dharug word for learning and the Dalang Project has four key outcomes:

  • Improve Aboriginal oral health and prevent obesity in Aboriginal communities
  • Improve local capacity and provide employment for Aboriginal people 
  • Provide a positive learning experience for new graduates in Aboriginal health 
  • Strengthen the evidence in Aboriginal health promotion and early intervention.

“Oral health promotion interventions are more likely to be effective in Aboriginal communities if they achieve community ownership of the intervention or program. In order to provide sustainable and long term oral health promotion in these communities, a large proportion of time will be dedicated to community consultation with each community to identify what type of oral health promotion strategies are needed and culturally competent; and to ensure community ownership of the program,” Ms Moir said.

“Healthy teeth are extremely important for overall health. This is why our Heathy Teeth strategy covers the full spectrum: from influencing oral health policy to delivering oral health services, building capacity within communities, and promoting oral health.”

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