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The Kimberley Dental Team (KDT) will be operating two tours in the northern region of Western Australia (WA) this year, with the first starting this week and the next visit slated for August. The KDT will travel through communities and towns in the Kimberley delivering oral care, supplies, and education to thousands of residents, particularly children.
From humble beginnings in Halls Creek in 2009 the KTD has grown into a hugely successful volunteer team of dental health personnel providing invaluable care across the Kimberley. It all started when husband and wife team, John and Jan Owen, were visiting Halls Creek as members of a choir and their background in dentistry was stumbled upon.
When John, a dentist, and his wife Jan, a dental nurse and dental health educator, were told of the scant dental services on offer in the town, they decided to have a look at the teeth of kids at the school. They could barely believe what they found.
'We were pretty shocked by the level of urgent care that we saw,' says Jan, '...kids with five or six abscesses.' She goes on to explain what this can actually mean for the kids involved. 'Anyone who's had a toothache can put themselves in that position. These kids are living with this for years. And it was something that we couldn't walk away from and not do something to address.'
And so the KDT began. Fast forward four years, and still the dental problem remains across the Kimberley. Anecdotally there are stories from teachers at schools across the region who say that kids are turning up holding their jaws in pain, or whose breath harbours the tell-tale smell of chronic tooth decay.
A combination of a lack of affordable and accessible dental services is a big factor, but the Owens's say education and diet are also crucial. When the issue of sugar in our diets is raised, so are Jan's hackles. She is passionate about education with regard to sugar and the way we consume it.
'I don't think people have a clue how much sugar they are consuming,' she says. 'You have to read the labels to get the shock factor of the number of grams, and it is just decimating our lives.'
She goes on to explain that for children, there is a potential double whammy if the naturally occurring sugar and sweet cravings, signs for the need for nutrition, are fed by soft drinks and junk food. She says the children are not only undernourished, but they are '...marinating their teeth in sugar.'
Since that visit in 2009, the KDT has grown into a full scale, mobile dental facility drawing on the skills of some 50 volunteer dental and allied health professionals mainly sourced from Perth. Activities like the supply of toothbrushes and education in schools in the bigger towns, through to jumping in choppers and administering dental care to far flung communities are all on the cards for the tours scheduled this year.
It's been a huge journey for this inspiring husband and wife team, although as Jan explains, possibly inevitable. 'And people say to us how did you come to choose Halls Creek, and we just look and say Halls Creek chose us. What is there to say? And we love to go back. But no, we didn't see where we would go with this... knowing our nature we probably should have.'
Source: ABC Kimberley