Charles Sturt University (CSU) students are playing a key role in an innovative oral health program in regional NSW to help recently arrived refugees settle into their new home.
Bachelor of Oral Health (Therapy and Hygiene) students are working with health professionals in the Multicultural Centre Refugee Health Clinic in Wagga Wagga.
Along with staff from the Wagga Wagga Health Service (WWHS) and the Wagga Multicultural Centre, the oral health students complete oral health assessments on the refugee patients in the Clinic.
CSU third year students Ms Victoria Holahan and Ms Liya Johny describe their involvement in the program as 'life-changing'.
"My experience in the program has been so rewarding I would now like to work with Indigenous populations when I complete my degree at Charles Sturt University," Ms Holahan said.
Ms Johny said the refugees tell you how they used to live and sometimes the stories are heartbreaking.
"It has been an eye opener to approach oral health in this way. One of the really important things that we try to do is to educate the refugees about achieving good oral health," Ms Johny said.
Wagga Wagga Health Service (WWHS) dental therapist tutor Ms Margaret Selvey said the model was a perfect example of integrated public healthcare under the one roof.
"The clients are streamlined into the service for a general health assessment and those with the highest needs are seen first," Ms Selvey said.
"We have seen hundreds of patients with a wide range of requirements."
Ms Selvey said many of the refugees are in need of dental care.
"Most of the families have been in refugee camps for up to two years with limited access to tooth brushing, food and clinical services. They've been living in tents so dental hygiene has not been high on their list," she said.
Once a refugee arrives in their new country and they begin life in a regional centre such as Wagga Wagga they receive a comprehensive medical examination by a doctor from the Primary Health Network (PHN).
Mobile dental equipment is taken to the weekly health assessment where a limited oral health assessment is performed by the CSU students under supervision.
The oral health assessment allows for a timely triage so that the most urgent cases can be seen at the hospital clinic.
Ms Selvey added that CSU students are able to train in real-life situations and learn first-hand some of the oral health issues facing refugees.