Nearly 100 homeless people and refugees, some who have had insufferable dental pain for years, received free dental treatment, thanks to a team of dentists, dental students from The University of Western Australia and volunteers from UWA and Tzu Chi Foundation Perth.
The joint initiative between Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation (an international humanitarian organisation that helps those less fortunate) and UWA aims to relieve the suffering of people who normally struggle to gain access to dental treatment. At the same time UWA dental students were provided with a valuable opportunity to expand their skills.
Dentist Dr Lydia See from UWA's School of Dentistry, who also coordinates the dental volunteering events for Tzu Chi Perth, said the patients were recruited by three main charity organisations - Red Cross, Ruah Community Services and St Bartholomew's House.
"The dental work was carried out on the weekend at a Dental Fair at UWA's Oral Health Centre of Western Australia with the provision of treatment for patients given by 33 of our dentists and 65 dental students.”
Dental problems ranged from broken teeth to infections, abscesses, periodontal disease and resulting long-standing severe toothache. Dental students provided chairside assistance and taught the patients about the importance of oral hygiene.
Dr See said it was a great initiative to help patients but also to provide learning opportunities for students.
"Sometimes we take dental care for granted, but it’s a reality that not everyone can access dental treatment because of a barrier in their lives or the expense," Dr See said.
"The students volunteering were able to give back to the community and gain experience in treating people with a range of different dental problems.
"It taught students that even though dentistry is a technical exercise, the patient is a person with feelings, beliefs and different ideas. Caring for the welfare of the patients is just as important as carrying out the dental work itself."
One of the patients, Mr Dugarme Tassi-e, 61 of Wilson, who receives support from Ruah Community Services, said the initiative was important to help people in the community who are homeless or recovering from homelessness.
"When you're homeless you struggle to gain access to dental care," he said.
"People don't understand the effects of years of poor dental hygiene. The minute your dental hygiene goes down, so does your health. It affects what you can eat and puts you in discomfort so you are unable to enjoy a quality of life that others often take for granted."
Mr Tassi-e said he was relieved to receive a free dental check-up through the initiative, and work on his teeth to repair them and alleviate discomfort.