Earlier this June, our practice had the opportunity to volunteer in the Royal Flying Doctor’s dental program based in the Northern Mallee Region town of Robinvale. We had the privilege to be joined by Dr Martin Hall, who is the director of the North Richmond Community Dental Health Centre. Dr Hall is also the pioneer of the dental program in Robinvale which forms the foundation of the current Royal Flying Doctor’s Dental initiative in the region.
Once offered this opportunity our first question to each other was ‘where exactly is Robinvale?’
We soon discovered Robinvale is located in the northern end of the Swan Hill Rural City Council LGA overlooking the Murray River. With its closest service centers 83km away in Mildura and 136km away in Swan Hill, Robinvale community members draw heavily on their local community for servicing. Robinvale is 400km from Bendigo and 500km from Melbourne.
This area is amongst the most disadvantaged in the state, with very limited access to dental care and a relatively high numbers of recent emigrants, refugees and aborigines. The program has two aims – to provide routine care to the indigenous community via the Murray Valley Aboriginal Cooperative Health Service, and to provide screening programs for dental disease and dental health promotion in the wider community, via visits to local schools, play groups, aged care facilities and to the many agricultural businesses in the region. Contrary to popular belief, the RFDS gets around the area by 4WD rather than aircraft, in this case one which is fitted out with a mobile dental chair, which can be set up in minutes.
The drive from our practice in Carnegie was roughly a 5 and ½ hour drive and while the scenery was very beautiful, it really helped to drill in the fact that Robinvale is such an isolated town. With a population of just over 2,000 people it is unfortunate that many of the local residents did not have the best access to adequate dental care until now.
Throughout the week we were able to provide basic dental care to residents at the local Aged Care Hostel, students at both St Mary’s Catholic School and the local pre-school as well as many patients at the Robinvale District Heath Services. Both dentists were able to switch between working in the dental surgery at Murray Valley Aboriginal Co-Op and visiting local facilities about the town. This system proved to be most effective as we were able to provide better care for the patients.
Not only were we able to provide dental care for those who have previously found it difficult to access dental facilities, we were also able to educate them on how to improve and maintain their oral hygiene.
The program as a whole has great potential. It was very rewarding and a real privilege for our team to be able to have had this experience.