At times, they were the only dental service for 100 kilometres – Air Force personnel from the Northern Territory (NT) who spent parts of this year travelling to remote First Nations communities providing essential health care.
CAPTION: Dental officer Flight Lieutenant Alexis Dieu, left, and dental assistant Leading Aircraftwoman Ocean Mitchell, both from 2 Expeditionary Health Squadron, treat a patient at Wadeye, NT, during a remote NT Health dental visit. Story by Flight Lieutenant Claire Campbell. Photo by Flight Lieutenant Yuen Dieu.
The two-person dental team from 2 Expeditionary Health Squadron conducted three remote community visits during the year to provide dental services on behalf of NT Health.
They visited Nauiyu at Daly River, Wadeye, and Milikapiti in the Tiwi Islands.
Dental officer Flight Lieutenant Alexis Dieu said these trips strengthened partnerships with government bodies and built upon the clinicians’ cultural understanding of these communities.
“On the Tiwi Islands we were acquainted with the Tiwi culture and able to practise their language at Milikapiti,” Flight Lieutenant Dieu said.
“It was a humbling and fulfilling experience that enabled us to use our clinical skills to help community members in need. We also gained a perspective of the challenges with accessing care in very remote locations.”
This is the first time Air Force has conducted remote placements with NT Health.
On these placements, the team delivered comprehensive dental services including examination, restoration, oral surgery, endodontics, hygiene, and preventative and periodontal care.
The dental team gained benefits too, learning how to treat children and elderly patients, managing complex medical care, and learning about new materials and consumables.
CAPTION: Dental assistant Sergeant Deborah Williamson, of 2 Expeditionary Health Squadron, with patients from Milikapiti community on the Tiwi Islands during a remote NT Health placement. Photo: Flight Lieutenant Alexis Dieu.
Dental assistant Sergeant Deborah Williamson had her expeditionary skills shaped and developed in a new and remote environment.
“We built on our skills in meeting the challenges of remote health care and tackling complex cases with limited resources,” Sergeant Williamson said.
“The team grew their clinical and critical-thinking skills through exposure to interdisciplinary health practices as well as diverse instruments, equipment and dental systems related to each remote clinic.”
The frequency of these visiting dental services range from once a quarter to once a year, and are met with immense appreciation.
“During the three rotations, we returned the smiles and bites of 89 NT residents in performing 31 cleans, 77 fillings and 77 extractions,” Flight Lieutenant Dieu said.
“We also experienced and learned about First Nations culture, language and crafts from each community we visited.”
Acting Chief Dental Officer NT Health Martin Hall spoke of the gratitude of the Oral Health Service team for the collaboration with Air Force.
“We’d like to recognise the kindness and commitment of the RAAF dental officers and dental assistants,” Mr Hall said.
“They have contributed to providing quality care for Territorians living in small, remote communities, and we look forward to an ongoing relationship.”