It was not your usual dentist visit! Treatments from the Dental Therapist took place under the shade of a tree and children brushed their teeth under a nearby garden tap. MAF and Laynha Health are partnering together to bring health and education to the isolated communities of Arnhem Land.
Bringing Healthy Smiles
Story and photos: Rebekah Somandin
Flying over the sparse bushland and numerous winding rivers, the scenery was dotted only occasionally with a few small clumps of houses. It felt as though we were flying in the middle of nowhere, with only trees out one window and the ocean out the other. Finally we landed in a small Homeland on the tip of a peninsula, a little place called Baniyala, or Stingray.
I was accompanying Caroline Falconer for the day, a Dental Therapist who regularly visits many different Homelands throughout Arnhem Land. As I watched her treat the children with gentleness and care, I felt privileged that MAF could play a part in supporting these communities through health and education.
Essential services in remote Homelands
Caroline works for Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corporation, an organisation that is owned by the Aboriginal people of East Arnhem Land. The Board is made up of traditional elders from all of the Homelands in the area. Doctors, nurses and dentists work for them under Laynha Health, travelling out to the remote Homelands with their skills and their culturally sensitive care. They also employ Homelands residents in Aboriginal Community Health roles.
Their work enables the Yolngu to live in their traditional lifestyle while still having access to essential health services. This has a huge impact within the culture, as they are assisting to return the dignity, identity and sense of purpose to the Yolngu as they live on their traditional land.
Not your usual dentist visit
As a Dental Therapist, Caroline spends her days travelling to different Homelands and caring for the teeth of children under the age of 18.
Today she was applying a fluoride treatment as a preventative for decay, which she does every six months. Walking around the community in the heat of the day, she called out to every child she could find, all of whom she knew by name as she had been visiting them since they were babies. Treatments took place under the shade of a tree and children brushed their teeth under a nearby garden tap.
In addition to this, Caroline provides clinical treatments in a small, very basic clinic room. The children are quiet and compliant under her care.
Education in Oral Health
Using many words in the local language, Caroline talked with the mothers to educate them on the importance of brushing your teeth every day. She showed graphs and photos of children’s teeth with common dental problems in the area. Nyuka Dhamarrandji, the local Aboriginal Health Worker for Laynha Health, helped explain the photos to the young children in their own language, telling them to avoid sugary food and drinks.
The difference with MAF
To travel to Baniyala would take about 3.5 hours on rough, pot-holed dirt roads. During the wet season, the roads become dangerous and often impassable. To fly there was an easy 40 minute flight.
Caroline came to Arnhem Land over 10 years ago. As I talked to her it was clear that it’s not the numbers and statistics that matter to her, but the relationships with the people.
“We love working with MAF as we travel out to the Homelands,” she said. “MAF staff have the same attitude and care that we do. It’s about caring for the communities in a consistent and practical way.”
MAF partners with Layhna Health to bring many flights like these out to the Homelands, providing physical help and practical support.