Problem: There are significant inequalities in oral health status between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children in Australia, particularly where the children have insufficient access to various forms of fluoride. There has been a growing interest in seeing fluoride varnish programs used more widely for Aboriginal children due to proven effectiveness. Despite this, there has been limited scale-up of these programs in Australia. This study investigates the feasibility of using Aboriginal dental assistants to provide regular fluoride varnish applications for Aboriginal children in the primary school setting.
Design: A mixed-methods approach including auditing the number of Aboriginal dental assistants were trained and then approved by the NSW Chief Health Officer to apply fluoride varnish, and collection and reporting of participant data on the each of the fluoride varnish days in the local patient management system.
Setting: Six Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services from regional NSW were invited to participate in the study. They also nominated a primary school and an Aboriginal dental assistant to participate in the study.
Key measures for improvement: Data were obtained from four 'fluoride varnish days' held at the schools over a 12-month period between December 2017 and December 2018. The number of Aboriginal dental assistants were trained and then approved by the NSW Chief Health Officer to apply fluoride varnish is also reported.
Strategies for change: In total, 8 Aboriginal dental assistants were trained to apply fluoride varnish during the study. Overall, students participating in the study received three or more fluoride varnish applications.
Effects of change: Results showed that Aboriginal dental assistants are able to safely and effectively apply fluoride varnish in a school setting with remote supervision.
Lessons learnt: This program can be scaled at the state level in NSW, and this could provide the basis for a nationally consistent program. Initial discussions have been held with several jurisdictions to lead this process via the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council (AHMAC) based on the results of this study and the support of key stakeholders. The Poche Centre as part of its scale-up planning for the Fluoride Varnish Program is examining the feasibility of including the apply fluoride varnish skillset in its existing Aboriginal Dental Assistant Scholarship Program.
- Aboriginal health
- allied health
- dental health
- implementing evidence