If you are homeless, there are endless barriers to accessing even the basic necessities of life—never mind ensuring that you receive adequate dental care.
It is this very issue that motivated University of Queensland School of Dentistry research assistant and oral-health therapist, Nicole Cockburn, to organise Dental Rescue Week at Brisbane Youth Service. Cockburn and a team will run a free dental clinic in Fortitude Valley from 3-7 October.
“Previously, homeless services haven’t had the ability to refer people for dental care, and there are a number of factors that could commonly prevent the homeless seeing a dentist,” said Cockburn.
“Dental health may not be priority for them at that time, maybe they don’t feel they will be able to see a dentist, or they may fear being misunderstood.
“We’re hoping this pilot program will show the value of the initiative and it can become something that takes place three or four times a year.”
Services on offer as part of Dental Rescue Week will include check-ups, cleans, basic fillings, referrals for more extensive dental care and education to prevent poor dental health.
Cockburn, who is just 22, has taken a leading role in the project, organising equipment and volunteers, as well as securing funding.
She said her community-mindedness was founded in her upbringing and nurtured at her former high school, San Sisto College at Carina, Queensland.
“I’ve definitely had an interest in social welfare for a long time and I think my school really emphasised that message of helping others,” Cockburn said.
“I’ve volunteered for a number of initiatives in the past to assist the homeless, but I would like to make a bigger difference with an ongoing program that provides some stability.”
Cockburn’s supervisor at UQ, Head of Dentistry Professor Pauline Ford, is one of her inspirations for making a difference to the community through dentistry.
In May, Professor Ford became the first woman to be appointed head of a dentistry school either Australia or New Zealand.
“A lot of her work is focused on the needs of disadvantaged groups and those with special needs,” Cockburn said.
“Aside from the homeless, her research includes the oral health of people with multiple sclerosis, mental illness and aged-care residents and how their needs could be better met.
“Working with her has opened my eyes to the possibilities of my own career.”