Griffith University: Dental students give community a reason to smile

Griffith University dental students are providing free clinics for people experiencing homelessness and high school students with limited access to regular oral health care.

Gold Coast based fifth-year Master of Dentistry student Ryan Kungl founded the Clinics For Communities program after learning how hard it was for people experiencing homelessness that required emergency dental treatment.

“Unfortunately, large oral health disparities exist in Australia and worldwide,” Ryan said.

“Through discussions with local people who are experiencing homelessness and homeless service provider partners, I identified a need for emergency clinics for patients without access to the public dental system.

“Our goal is to continue to educate people experiencing homelessness on their eligibility for free essential dental care through outreach, while concurrently providing emergency dental clinics.”

Clinics For Communities is a collaborative effort between Griffith dental and social work students and staff, and local homeless service provider partners.

Much of the work includes emergency dental treatments such as removing unsalvageable teeth, performing the first step of a root canal therapy or filling large cavities.

“It is extremely important to help anyone, particularly those less fortunate, alleviate dental pain so they can carry on improving their lives with one less setback,” Ryan said.

“As dentists, it is our privilege to form close relationships with our patients and have a dramatic and positive influence on their wellbeing and quality of life.”

The clinic, funded by a grant from the Pierre Fauchard Academy, has already operated for two days this year at the Griffith University Dental Clinic with the support of Professor Robert Love.

Ryan has previously provided outreach work in Uganda, assisting with dental hygiene education and treatments for more than 1000 children in the African country.

Meanwhile Olan Hartley, who is also studying a Master of Dentistry, runs Esesson Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation providing free dental care for high school children in South East Queensland.


These children are identified as being on extended waitlists or attending special needs schools that have limited access to regular oral health care.

Many are refugees, special needs children or children from low socio-economic backgrounds.

“Our goal is to make sure the children that are part of our program receive timely, quality and comprehensive care,” Olan said.

“We believe if we can establish good habits and address dental concerns prior to adulthood, we will cause a ripple effect into the future for the children’s quality of life.”

This year, Esesson Foundation, led by Griffith alumnus and CEO Dr Ajitha Naidu Sugnanam, has managed the Free Dental Care for Underprivileged Children program.

“We have clinic days at private community practices on a minimum of once a month, with the aim of treating 100 children comprehensively in 2021,” Olan said.

The practices include Emotive Smiles Dental at Jindalee, Mint Dental at Mudgeeraba and Harbour Town Dental at Biggera Waters.

Olan said the initiative would not have been possible without the assistance of Griffith dental students giving their time to provide oral hygiene instruction and preventative education, clinically assisting in surgery and keeping children engaged with activities while they wait for treatment.

“So far, we have managed to provide a very positive first dental experience for many of these children,” she said.

“Griffith dental students generously volunteer their time to support clinical days and volunteer dentists provide hundreds of hours doing treatments ranging from emergency care, restorations, to root canals.”

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