Locally-driven Aboriginal children’s dental health project a win for all 


Did you know that applying fluoride varnish to children’s teeth can reduce the risk of tooth decay by around 40%? That’s why the Loddon Mallee Aboriginal Reference Group (LMARG) is thrilled with the outcome of years of advocacy and lead work on the amendment to Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substances Regulations 2017, which means that trained Aboriginal Health Practitioners can now apply fluoride varnish on children’s teeth between the ages of 3-17 at Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs). 

LMARG is a consortium of ACCOs comprising: Bendigo & District Aboriginal Co-operative (BDAC), Mallee District Aboriginal Services (MDAS), Murray Valley Aboriginal Co-operative Ltd (MVAC) and Njernda Aboriginal Corporation.

As a controlled drug, fluoride varnish could only be administered by dental health practitioners and dental assistants in Victoria. This made access to fluoride varnish reliant on mainstream dental services.

“Not only was the model expensive, but it also limited delivery, as already stretched practitioners had to be released from their schedules to do this outreach work,” said BDAC CEO, Dallas Widdecombe.

“In addition to the prohibitive cost, the current fluoride varnish application model is not culturally appropriate, so flexibility in how the new program is delivered was also an important focus,” said Dallas.

Despite broad support, the process of getting the regulation changed proved to be a drawn out and complex process.

“We began advocating for Aboriginal Health Practitioners to be able to administer fluoride varnish as far back as 2016,” said Rahila Ummer Christian, LMARG’s Strategic Oral Health Advisor.

“There was an enormous amount of advocacy involved to get all the stakeholders on board, but with LMARG  leading the project and strong support from the Victorian Department of Health, the regulation change came through in 2021; and the training program officially kicked-off in October 2022,” Rahila explained.

The  training program – which is funded by the Victorian Department of Health and coordinated by Dental Health Services Victoria – was developed in close collaboration with LMARG, who provided input into the training program. 

At the beginning of August 2023, the culmination of all this hard work was celebrated with the graduation of eight Aboriginal Health Practitioners who will now be able to deliver this preventive oral service across Victoria at Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. 

“Of the eight graduates, seven are from LMARG, with BDAC’s Clinical Practice Manager, Jaydene Burzacott the first candidate to complete the training,” Rahila enthused.

“This is the first cohort of graduates, but there will be many more to come, which will ensure that this important dental service is made more widely available, taking pressure off the dental health system and delivering much-needed improvements in dental health not only for Aboriginal children, but all children,” Dallas concluded.

LMARG is now in the planning stages of implementing the Aboriginal Health Practitioner Fluoride Varnish Pilot Program across LMARG ACCOs. The pilot program is funded by Dental Health Services Victoria.

Seven of the eight graduates of the Fluoride Varnish Program attended the graduation held at BDAC in August 20923. Pictured here are: 

Left to right:

  • Laura Yeomans Program Manager Dental, from RMIT University
  • Rahila Ummer Christian LMARG Oral Health Strategic Advisor
  • Zoe Kelly (MDAS Mildura)
  • Boris Wilson, (MDAS Mildura)
  • Rebecca Tracey (Njernda)
  • Paul Roberts (MDAS Mildura)
  • Jess Mitchell (VACCHO) 
  • Megan Atkinson (Njernda)
  • Jaydene Burzacott BDAC (Clinical Practice Manager, BDAC)
  • Dallas (CEO BDAC)
  • Susan McKee (CEO DHSV)

Eighth graduate, Georgina Johnson from MDAS Swan Hill and Kerang was unable to attend on the day.