The dentists rebuilding smiles across WA

Posted on 10th June 2021

The Rebuilding Smiles program supports those who have experienced domestic and family violence, referred by domestic violence support agencies. The Australian Dental Health Foundation coordinates volunteer dentists to provide pro bono dental treatment for these patients – and they’re always looking for more dentists to make a difference.

Dr Aron Lazaridis is only two years out of Dental School, but already determined to make a difference by giving back through the Australian Dental Health Foundation’s Rebuilding Smiles Program.

It was looking into how to help a pro bono case that Aron and the team at Coolamon Dental in Ellenbrook came across the Rebuilding Smiles program. “We made dentures for the patient but due to her jaw not really lending itself to dentures, the only real option we had was implants,” Aron says. “I spoke to the principal dentist here and Serena, our practice manager, about what we could do for this patient, and Serena found the Rebuilding Smiles program and informed me about it. We got the approval and through the program we managed to help the patient.”

The practice has now taken on a second Rebuilding Smiles patient. “We have done a treatment plan and I have done all her extractions,” Aron says. “My colleague Gen (Dr Genevieve Day) is going to be doing all of the restorative dentistry and then the patient will come back to me for implants.”

Aron says so far, he has found taking part in the Rebuilding Smiles program very rewarding. “It is giving these patients exactly what they need and what they can’t afford,” he says. “The look on their faces when you are guaranteeing them the best treatment and the best outcomes for things that they have been self-conscious about, such as trying to get a job, and eating and speaking, is really satisfying.”

And although the two patients are still undergoing treatment, Aron says he is already seeing the difference the treatment is making for the patients involved.

“One of the patients is getting more employment,” he says. “It is not the best thing to think about people not being able to get employment because of their teeth, but the fact it has allowed her to be more confident and get a full-time job is really powerful. She always shakes my hand when she comes to the practice and says thank you for making a difference.

“The other patient has only been to the practice twice so far. When we did the consult, the patient’s carer came in as well and we all discussed it together. Having her carer there as well made it easier to explain things and for the patient to reciprocate. It felt like a really warm space for them to be in.”

Aron says the communication has sometimes been challenging to ensure everyone is on the same wavelength, which is why having a carer attend has been so helpful. For one of the patients, due to juggling work, kids and not having a stable living situation, it has sometimes been difficult to arrange for her to routinely come in for appointments. However, he says their practice has been accommodating and both patients have been very obliging.

Aron says volunteering in the program has been a satisfying experience. “I go home, and I tell my family about what I am doing and who we are doing it for, and they are really proud. To see their reaction is lifting.

“It is also rewarding that you can do everything that is required for the patient without worrying about the financial aspect,” he adds. “We also know as practitioners that things can change, and we can have a tooth that changes three or four times, treatment-plan wise – but we have the flexibility that can accommodate for those changes as well.

“To be able to use your skills to benefit others who really need it is refreshing – it is a different type of reward system that you get. I think that if you are privileged enough to be in this position and this profession, then you have to give back and help when you can.”

As well as being personally satisfying, Aron says the experience has helped make him a better practitioner. “Clinically, it has been a great learning experience, but also personally and ethically. I also feel like my communication has improved. Volunteering definitely has its benefits as a well-rounded practitioner.”

Principal dentist and practice owner Dr Kent Tan encourages other practices to sign up to the Rebuilding Smiles program.

“It doesn’t take much energy for a practice to be involved in a program like this, and for a little bit of our time it can make a big difference to someone’s life,” he says. “When we spoke to Aron about the program it just made sense for us to do it.

“It’s not always just about the business side of things; it’s good to give back to the community, and that is why, for this clinic and for my other clinics, I would put my hand up to be part of a program like Rebuilding Smiles,” he adds. “It is a great initiative.”

Funding is available to reimburse approved expenses incurred by the practice, such as dentures, crown and bridge or the placement of implants, at the completion of the case.

If you or your practice is interested in being part of the Rebuilding Smiles program, please contact ADHF WA State Coordinator, Andrea Paterson, adminwa@adhf.org.au