Filling a vital gap in oral health services at a south-east Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community has been the passion for Griffith dentistry student Michael Baker from Toowoomba.
An Indigenous student himself, Michael is set to graduate this week (19 Dec) with a Bachelor of Dentistry and Oral Health / Graduate Diploma of Dentistry at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.
During five years studying at Griffith’s Gold Coast campus, Michael, 26, and a group of his fellow dental students have visited Cherbourg four times a year to run clinics at the local health service.
“It is nice to see that we are making an impact in the community. There is a long way to go but we’re taking it in small steps and we will get there.”
Until the program started, Cherbourg locals had to travel over an hour to the nearest dentist where there was a waiting list of more than two years.
Working on behalf of the Hope4Health organisation, Mr Baker organises the trips, collects donations from corporations, Griffith University and the Australian Dental Association and takes the mobile clinic on the three-hour drive to Cherbourg.
On the latest trip he loaded up his ute with about $60,000 of dental gear and his team spent a day setting up four surgery rooms at the Cherbourg health clinic.
And they did it all for free.
Potential for 120 patients
“The program has the potential to see up to 120 patients every trip. We generally see around 100 a trip and try and perform as much treatment as we can on those patients,” Mr Baker said.
“Unfortunately the closest dentist for Cherbourg residents is over an hour away in Kingaroy with a waiting list of up to two years, so a lot of the patients we see from Cherbourg have a lot of chronic and acute pain.”
Mr Baker said the students “walk away at the end of the day” with a greater knowledge of Indigenous communities like Cherbourg and that is the aim of the program.
A mentor for future generations, he said his Indigenous heritage played a ‘huge role’ in why he worked as coordinator of the program.
“I feel as an Indigenous dental student that I need to give back to the community as well,” Mr Baker said.
“I have been fortunate enough to gain entry into such a prestigious degree at Griffith.
Mr Baker has finished university and will soon be a registered dentist working in Toowoomba with his brother David who is also a dentist. However, it is not the end of his involvement with the Hope for Health program.
“I won’t come out here as a student in the future but I will definitely come out as a supervisor so I will still have an active role in this program as time goes on,” he said.
“It’s not something I want to give up.”
Mr Baker was a Queensland finalist in the Young Australian of the Year category announced in October.