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Recognising NAIDOC Week: November President's Report

9 November 2020

NAIDOC Week is being celebrated in November this year (8-15 November). Officially celebrated in July, it was moved to November due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This NAIDOC Week, ADA NSW President Dr Kathleen Matthews discusses inequality in access to oral health for indigenous people and ways we can help address this issue.

The 2020 theme is ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’. It acknowledges that hundreds of nations and cultures have covered this land for the last 60,000 years prior to European contact and colonisation. It also marks one year on from the AMA report card on Indigenous oral health which was released on 22 November 2019.

It is a sobering read which highlights the disparity that exists for Indigenous adults and children and how our health system needs to shift to address the needs of our fellow Australians.

The report card highlights that dental disease affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people at rates two to three times more than their non-Indigenous counterparts across urban, regional and remote communities. It highlights five areas for action for oral health including:

  • Fluoridated water supplies, especially in Queensland
  • Oral health promotion that works with fluoride varnish programs and a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages
  • An effective dental workforce with greater participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Better coordination and reduced institutional racism in oral health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Data to know that the work being done is making a difference.

They all sound like big ideas and the responsibility of government; so how could you contribute as an individual?

In the words of Paul Kelly – from little things, big things grow. Starting with something small is a place we can all begin as we work towards cultural competency as individuals. Collectively, that potentially leads to helping create a health system with cultural safety for Indigenous people.

What is a first small step we could all achieve as an individual? It could be incorporating an acknowledgement to country at the start of a meeting or it might be taking time to consider and understand the meaning of cultural safety. I found this 15-minute YouTube clip very helpful (www.youtube.com/ watch?v=guPvAnofCn8) as it explains how the cultural determinants of health underpin the social determinants of health.

Being part of a dominant ‘health’ culture can make us unaware of our own unconscious bias or prejudices, so challenging yourself to reflect on these may just change your world view.

As an organisation we can lobby and advocate for government action to improve Indigenous oral health.

Better outcomes are delivered for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when cultural safety is part of the health system – AHPRA has published a Health and Cultural Safety Strategy 2020-2025 for implementation across the whole health sector.

Dental services are part of the health system, and as highlighted by the report card from the AMA there is a gap that needs closing for Indigenous people.

It is pleasing to hear that our federal organisation also has plans to embed cultural safety into its/our policies and practices. They also provide up to four $5000 scholarships per year to Indigenous students to pursue study leading to a registrable dental practitioner qualification.

Also of interest to ADA NSW was the line in this year’s Federal Budget for Health about a feasibility study to identify best approaches to increase dental training in regional locations.

Together all those little things will help to grow the bigger thing – a health system with equity and access for all Australians and especially the first Australians – Always Was, Always Will Be.

This article was published in our November issue of NSW Dentist. Members can read the full issue as well as our complete online archive here:

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