Hello my name is Nanah,
Growing up, I never imagined working in a dental clinic. I’d never set foot inside one.
I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, where I lived until I was 16-years-old.
I didn’t own a toothbrush and had never been taught about oral health.
If anyone in the camp had a toothbrush, it was because they had received it in an aid pack from a charity but even then, no one understood what it was used for.
When I arrived in Australia with my mum and older sisters in 2011, we were lucky enough to settle in the northern suburbs of Geelong.
Everything was new and there were many competing demands, such as securing housing, learning English, enrolling in schooling or gaining employment, and navigating the healthcare system.
I went to North Geelong Secondary College and learnt about the importance of regular dental check-ups.
I discovered oral health is not just about having a nice smile – it’s linked to a number of major illnesses, such as oral cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, mental health and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
The first time I went to a dental appointment was at Corio Community Health and I was so scared. Do you remember being nervous about going to the dentist too?
I’d never seen anything like it and even the chair with its large attachments was intimidating.
People of all ages and backgrounds have a fear of the dentist, but for members of the refugee community, it can be intensified by inexperience, lack of education and language barriers.
The drilling sounds, equipment and clinical setting can be very overwhelming.
After learning how important your teeth and oral health are to overall wellbeing, I thought if I pursued a career in the dental industry, I could help all residents of the north – including fellow refugees – enjoy better health.
I did a traineeship at Barwon Health and have been working with the Corio team as an oral health educator for three years now. My older sister, who was born in Burma before my family had to flee the war, is also a dental assistant here.
The dental service at Corio Community Health Centre cares for approximately 1,000 refugees and a total of 7,000 patients every year.
Our staff are passionate about the work we do – but we need a facility that matches the quality care provided. We need a space that meets the needs of the rapidly growing and diverse population we are caring for.
We need your help to build a state-of-the-art dental clinic for people living in the northern suburbs of Geelong.
Our dental service regularly has translators on site to assist patients for whom English is a second language.
Currently, the treatment rooms are too small to accommodate the necessary support people – including interpreters and family members – whose presence is key to reducing a patient’s fear.
Sadly, we see some refugee kids aged four or five with cavities so bad they require all their baby teeth removed.
By building a state-of-the-art dental facility at Barwon Health North, we can include child-friendly family rooms and education spaces free from scary equipment and noises in the design.
This means refugees or locals who have never been to a dental clinic – or individuals who have a fear of the dentist – can be talked through what to expect in their appointment before setting foot in a clinical space.
Another challenge is that since refugees aren’t familiar with western food, or the need to enjoy some items in moderation, they can quickly but unknowingly consume more than the recommended sugar intake, which leads to further health risks and complications.
These consulting rooms will enhance our ability to talk to patients and their families about maintaining a healthy diet during their visit.
It’s also why it is vital to co-locate dental alongside the existing child and family health services at Barwon Health North.
I used the fantastic services there when I was pregnant with my now 18-month-old daughter. By having access to a wide range of help under one roof, there is an ease of referrals between services and it can provide a central, accessible one-stop health facility for local families.
With this new facility, up to 12,000 patients of all backgrounds will be able to receive urgent and necessary dental care each year.
This tax time, I ask that you please consider supporting the Barwon Health Foundation’s Project North campaign.
Project North is a $2.5 million appeal to help close the health gap that exists in our region by first focusing on the issue of oral health in communities where it’s most needed.
I am sure you agree we all deserve the best health and wellbeing possible - regardless of where we live, nationality or economic status.
Your tax–deductible donation to Project North will help build a healthy, more equal future and make Geelong greater for all who call it home.
Oral health educator
Corio Dental, Barwon Health