Helping to heal smiles

A long-held commitment to volunteering has seen Dr Jonathan Lo give back to the community in more ways than one. Now, as the co-owner and principal dentist of Maylands Dental Centre, he’s offering up his practice for Healing Smiles’ screening and emergency-treatment days.

Volunteerism

Dentist Dr Jonathan Lo is no stranger to volunteering, first taking part in dental volunteering as a student. “I was lucky enough to be asked to join the committee for the National Dental Foundation almost 10 years ago, which eventually went on to become the Australian Dental Health Foundation (ADHF),” Jonathan recalls. “There was a small group of us, led by Dr Dennis Gregory, and I was a keen student wanting to get involved.

“Volunteering was a big part of my upbringing,” he says. “I enjoyed the idea of being able to help others. Even as a dental student, I wanted to be a part of it, which is why I joined the committee.”

Jonathan became the voluntary State coordinator for the WA branch of the National Dental Foundation, helping to organise Dental Rescue Days and establish the clinic at St Pat’s (where he became the first volunteer dentist). 

When private practices open their doors to our patients, it helps to make patients feel part of the community and cared for by wider society. Many of these patients have been marginalised, and their dental experiences may have been traumatising in the past, in addition to their life circumstances. A warm welcoming environment goes a long way to putting them at ease, and makes dental treatment less intimidating. Dr Jacinta Vu, Healing Smiles Clinical Coordinator.

Over the years, he’s also been a regular volunteer at the Homeless Connect Rockingham events. “I started this initiative with Sandra Wood, Andrea Paterson and Lisa Daw from DHS, years ago,” he recalls. “At the start, we were put in the far corner where smokers would go or be standing in the rain waiting for people to come! Now, we have a nice inside waiting area, with the outside caravan. The Salvation Army has embraced us, and it’s been great that we’ve become such a big part of the day itself. 

“It is at the point where we have regular patients, which is wonderful to see them get the treatment they need, but shows the number of people who fall through the cracks in our public health system. It has become quite comfortable and established for both the patients, Salvation Army and the volunteers.”

Practice involvement

Over a year ago, Jonathan and his business partner Dr Justin Soon acquired Maylands Dental Centre. Although he’s now busier than ever, Jonathon wasn’t prepared to sacrifice his work helping the community. As such, providing clinical space for a Healing Smiles screening and emergency-treatment day seemed like the perfect fit. 

Healing Smiles volunteer dentist and committee member Dr Shanash Bishnulall volunteered for the day, assisted by dental assistant, Chika Ushijima. Over the course of the day, nine grateful patients were provided with more than $10,000 worth of treatment. While Shanash and Chika tended to patients in the designated treatment room, the practice continued their regular appointments.

“It didn’t take a lot of coordination or effort, and (adawa volunteer coordinator) Sandra Wood did most of the work on the day itself,” Jonathan says. “The room was there and wasn’t being used, and not many consumables were required because it was mainly extractions.

“This is something that I’ve always wanted to do and is one of the benefits of owning a practice. There are so many volunteers who want to offer their time and patients who need to be seen. It’s the first session we have run, and we will do more in the future.”

Jonathan also said taking part in the screening day was a very enjoyable experience for his staff.

“My biggest concern was the staff might find it disruptive because the screening day was running at the same time as our regular day,” he says. “Obviously not all practices have to do it that way; they can choose to dedicate a specific day, and that is where the flexibility comes in, but this was proof that all you need is a room.”

The dentist that I saw was absolutely wonderful. Honestly, I could not fault her at all, she was lovely, and made the experience virtually painless and anxiety free. Healing Smiles patient

Practice receptionist Narin Demirel said the screening day was an amazing experience. “Of course, the patients were a little anxious in the waiting room but seeing their faces afterwards was heart-warming,” she says. “The dentist that looked after the patients was wonderful – she was very understanding with the patients without any judgement at all. 

“I loved seeing the patients as they were leaving because they were so happy. I would be more than happy for the day to happen here again; it’s a great program, and it was a very rewarding feeling.”

Dental assistant Chika Ushijima says it was a valuable experience on how to interact with patients who might have been through trauma. “As a dental assistant it’s part of our job to make patients comfortable, so it was a good opportunity for me,” she says. “The patients were so grateful. What made me a bit emotional was they kept saying sorry, even though they weren’t doing anything wrong; I am glad I could help even just slightly.”

To other practice owners considering offering their clinical space for a volunteering or screening day, Jonathon says it’s a worthwhile and meaningful experience. 

“I would want to hear what their concerns are and reassure them that it is not as complicated as they think it will be, because it was very simple in the end,” he says. “From a business point of view, it might be difficult finding staff who are willing to come in on their day off or to open the practice on a separate day, and the logistics behind it all, but this is proof that you can also have your regular days and run concurrently. There’s a lot of flexibility behind how someone wants to volunteer their practice. 

“We’re all in a very privileged position as dentists, to be able to help those who suffer from acute and chronic teeth related issues,” he adds. “I would encourage anyone to do it. If they don’t know what they can do, don’t be afraid to ask, because there are so many different ways to volunteer – and it might not even be in a clinical capacity. There will always be people who could use our help, especially in our local community.”

Get involved

If you’re a practice owner considering hosting a dental emergency or screening day, please contact volunteerism coordinator Sandra Wood, sandra@adawa.com.au

“We have so many women waiting for treatment that we could fill these emergency treatment days ten times over,” Sandra says. “We would appreciate if any practice is in a position to volunteer their clinical space or staff.”

If you want to learn more, or volunteer with Healing Smiles, please email Dr Jacinta Vu, Healing Smiles Clinical Coordinator, healingsmileswa@gmail.com

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