Meet Dr Jilen Patel

Posted on 6th May 2019

Dentist Jilen Patel with four children

Dr Jilen Patel did Western Australia proud at the Australian Dental Congress in Adelaide, winning the ADA/PFA National Young Emerging Lecturer Award.

He spoke on, “Caries Management in the 21st Century: Drill, Fill and Bill?”

We caught up with this inspiring young dentist ahead of his visit to Congress.

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.”

Jilen’s career has certainly been varied so far – and winning the Emerging Young Lecturer Award sees the start of another chapter.

“The presentation critically evaluated the trends and evidence-base around contemporary caries management,” he explains. “It is interesting to think that despite all our advances in diagnosis, materials and techniques, significant disparities in oral health continue to persist and the global prevalence of dental caries is rising rather than falling. As a profession we continue to define ourselves by how well we yield a surgical handpiece and how well we control the aesthetic contours of our restorations…at some point we need to question whether as health professionals we are truly interested in controlling “caries the disease” or whether we remain content with simply restoring “caries the lesion” day after day.”

5 minutes with Jilen Patel
What three words best describe you? Committed, conservative, inspired.
What is your favourite part of the world? South-East Asia.
If you weren’t in the dentistry field, what would you be doing for a living? A police officer on a motorbike.
What do you do in your spare time? Pack the car up and go camping or travel.
What is your favourite author or favourite band/musician? It would be way too academic if I said John Featherstone, right?
What is something that people might not know about you? I play the flute and the mandolin.