College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

8 June 2020

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Set up for success in rural Canada

For JCU Dentistry graduate Mary Cross-Duchene, returning home to Canada after completing her studies didn’t mean the end of her connection to the university.

Now working in a dental clinic in rural Saskatchewan, Canada, providing government-supported dental health to First Nations communities, Mary can see many parallels between the work she’s doing and her JCU training.

“The values of JCU aligned with a lot of the values I already held. The focus on rural and remote health matched my desire to provide First Nations healthcare. The model of providing compassionate care that we learnt at JCU is essential to the work I do now,” she says.

JCU’s emphasis on rural and remote healthcare starts in first year and continues throughout the five years of study. Placements are offered in government-run clinics throughout regional and rural Australia.

“I always envisioned providing dental care to people in regional areas who have the most difficulty accessing it,” says Mary.

“I grew up in a little farming town in rural Canada and so I’m used to the lifestyle. Also, my dad was a teacher in the remote Arctic regions of Canada teaching in Inuit communities. Seeing what he achieved motivated me to want to make a difference to remote communities.”

It was the exposure to the public dental system in Australia, as well as her student experiences at JCU’s low-cost dental clinics, which have proved invaluable to her work in Canada.

“Most of my First Nations patients are ‘pain attenders’, meaning that their driving force for showing up at the clinic is pain. Their teeth have often been terribly neglected. I’m thankful for the training I received at JCU to be able to sensitively handle these types of situations.

“I remember seeing a patient at the JCU Clinic in third year who had so much decay that I didn’t know where to begin. Fortunately, the senior clinician showed me how to first build trust with the patient, and then adapt the treatment to suit. That is, to just start out doing small actions rather than shock the patient with all the work being done at once.”

Mary Cross-Duchene in Canada
Mary Cross-Duchene with happy client
JCU dentist graduate Mary Cross-Duchene aims to improve dental access in rural Saskatchewan, Canada

A push for universal dental care

In addition to her clinical role, Mary is also active in lobbying the Canadian government to introduce universal dental care, with government-subsidised dental visits.

In fact, it was while completing a unit on health promotions at JCU that Mary had the opportunity to prepare a policy on universal dental care. That policy was later adopted by the Green Party of Ontario as part of its election campaign.

“The argument for universal dental care was a major issue in the last provincial elections and was discussed by all parties. It is a continuing conversation that Canadians are having,” says Mary.

“In Canada, similar to Australia, dentistry is almost an exclusively private health service, with only those on very low incomes able to access any government-provided service. Most patients need assistance with bridging the gap in covering dental expenses, and as a result, they put off seeking treatment until there is an emergency.

“Unfortunately, the time it takes for tooth pain to get bad enough to seek a dentist is the time it can take for a cavity to turn into needing a tooth extraction. Patients often can’t afford more expensive treatments of tooth restoration as an alternative, and also can’t afford dentures after losing a tooth, either.”

Since graduating in 2018, Mary has kept her connection with JCU, providing information sessions for the university’s Canadian graduates on what to expect when they come home to work as dentists.

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