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Central Coast seniors smiling

University of Newcastle (UON) oral health students will invest further into their community over the coming months, providing much-needed oral hygiene care to patients in the Woy Woy hospital geriatric rehabilitation ward.

With support from a qualified oral health practitioner, students will deliver oral health education and assist patients in cleaning teeth and dentures. Students will also offer oral health education sessions to hospital staff.

This is the first time an Australian university has offered this kind of oral health community placement.

The driving forces behind the project are UON’s Oral Health Lecturer Dr. Janet Wallace along with Dr. Sunil Gupta, Clinical Director, Division of Aged and Subacute and Complex Care and Gillian Isaac, the Divisional Manager of Central Coast Local Health District, Division of Aged Subacute and Complex Care. The initiative is based on the success of the UON oral health student placement program in residential aged care facilities and the ‘Senior Smiles’ oral health research project.

“The UON oral health residential age care student placement program was established in 2009 and has been evaluated over the past five years; what we found is that oral health is often overlooked in residential facilities,” says Dr. Wallace.

Dr. Wallace’s discovery lead to the ‘Senior Smiles’ oral health research project in 2014, which was funded by a grant from NSW Medicare Local, Erina. The new geriatric ward student placement program is a further development of these programs.

“I’m hoping it opens the doors to many other placement opportunities within the hospital environment,” says Dr. Wallace

Dr. Wallace hopes to see the new initiative change the way oral health is considered, and attended to, within the hospital environment. For Central Coast seniors, this could lead to an improvement in their overall health.

“Oral health is directly linked to general health,” explains Dr. Wallace. “Establishing the new geriatric ward student placement program within the hospital environment could potentially change oral hygiene protocol. Hopefully we will see positive oral health outcomes in the future.”

Not only will the student placement program address a critical need in the community – a need that might otherwise have been overlooked – it will also enhance the education experience for oral health students at UON.

“Providing students with innovative ‘real life’ learning opportunities encourages engagement, improves participation and enables the students to develop addition skills and knowledge that would not be experienced in the normal classroom environment,” says Dr. Wallace.

“Ultimately, this initiative is a positive move forward for both the community and UON oral health students.”

The new geriatric ward student placement program will commence at Woy Woy hospital in August 2015, and will be assessed by Dr. Janet Wallace and the oral health research team to determine its impact and success.

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