Posted on 27th May 2019
Dr Jilen Patel has been named the 7News WA Young Achiever of the Year. In a huge night for the 29-year-old paediatric dentist, Jilen also won the Masonic Care WA/Freemasons WA Community Service and Volunteering Award, for his work with the Kimberley Dental Team.
An interest in paediatric dentistry was sparked early in Jilen’s career, when he was involved with the Kimberley Dental Team charity. “Working with children from remote communities and disadvantaged settings, I quickly saw the gaps in service delivery and the significant burden of disease experienced by these already vulnerable children,” he recalls. “The ability to make a significant impact on a child’s quality of life…alleviating dental pain that had downstream effects on nutrition, school attendance, sleep was something that really resonated with me.
“However, I felt that I needed to know more and develop my skills further in order to comprehensively treat paediatric patients. There is an overwhelming perception that ‘it’s just a baby tooth…’ from both the community and the profession and now having worked in both hospital and private sectors I’ve realised that this couldn’t be further from the truth!
“The alarming number of children presenting to ED with pain, sepsis, infection and the thousands of teeth being extracted following emergency hospital admission is testament to the fact that baby teeth matter and inadequate management of caries in young children carries a huge biological, psychological and economic cost on our community.”
As well as his work as a paediatric dentist, Jilen is a senior lecturer in clinical dentistry at the UWA Dental School. “I enjoy the ability to continue to work across a variety of settings whether this be in clinic or hospital and contexts from undertaking comprehensive rehabilitation under general anaesthesia to trauma management on call,” he says. “In addition to the clinical capacity being a member of the faculty and having access to the innovative technologies available at OHCWA and PCH I have the opportunity to developing my academic and research interests in paediatrics, cariology and dental public health. The role enables you to both generate and translate evidence into clinical practice and the dental curriculum.”
He has also been involved with creating an oral health education program for refugee children. “Our oral health education and prevention program creates a point-of-care approach allowing the families to be seen in a multidisciplinary setting with onsite interpreters,” he says. “In addition, we have been able to implement an Australian first double-blind randomised controlled clinical trial aiming to arrest caries among refugee children using novel cariostatic agents. The families receive oral hygiene materials, tailored education and along with the use of intra-oral photography we have been able to gradually increase oral health literacy and awareness among this vulnerable cohort.”
Jilen’s career might have been different if not for an accident almost six years ago, when Jilen was a passenger en route to volunteering at a remote Kimberley community, which resulted in him suffering a significant degloving injury to his hand, compounded by multiple fractures.
“Fortunately, the team and I came out of the accident without any critical injuries,” Jilen says. “Working with a team of energetic, dedicated and passionate individuals, the last thing I thought about was the impact of the injury on my career, rather my immediate thoughts were luckily we made it out alive and I still have my hand. Although it might sound cliché, this sort of thing turns out to be a life-changing experience that has changed my approach to my career and practice. Prior to the accident, I would have been content working in private practice from 9-5 but since the accident I now think very differently… if I did lose function in my hand tomorrow how much of an impact did I make and was it worthwhile? It could have easily been game over six years ago and in some ways this has also given me a deeper connection with the Kimberley, the land and its people.”