Joining the dots – improving dental outcomes for First Nations people


University of Melbourne oral health therapist treating a patient. Image: supplied

An ambitious new plan to implement better dental care for First Nations peoples is a step closer to reality as dental schools around Australia begin to totally overhaul the teaching curriculum.

Led by University of Melbourne Professor Julie Satur from the Melbourne Dental School, the new curriculum will contribute to the development of graduate dental practitioners who have the appropriate knowledge, skills and practice to provide culturally safe oral health care.

It aims to create a culturally safe educational approach which will support the development of an Indigenous dental workforce.

Commissioned by the Australasian Council of Dental Schools and launching today, the new curriculum is based on key areas of culturally safe practice underpinned by the expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Cultural safety is a spirit of practice taking into account Indigenous peoples’ strong connections to Country. We are asking all dental practitioners to undertake critical self-reflection to address identified bias, assumptions and racism,” Josh Cubillo, Indigenous Health Leadership Coordinator at the Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, said.

“Cultural safety leads to cultural respect and a feeling of security for the patient. Acknowledging Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing is the biggest step and this new curriculum is a start.”

Professor Satur believes the new curriculum is long overdue.

“We know dental care is expensive and oral health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are significant. We also know that poor oral health has multiple effects on other aspects of health,” she said.

“It is time we changed our approaches to managing oral health with Indigenous peoples and we believe the new curriculum is a step towards achieving better outcomes.”

Each dental program across Australia will have different structures and needs and the curriculum is designed to be flexible in enabling programs to meet the specific needs of their local communities.

It will be implemented over the next five years in response to new accreditation standards established by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority and the Dental Board of Australia in January 2021.

The new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety curriculum for dental students will be formally launched at 10am today at the International Association of Dental Research ANZ meeting held at the University of Melbourne. It is funded by the Australasian Council of Dental Schools.

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