School water program to brighten smiles in remote NSW

20 November 2015

A new pilot project aimed at improving the oral health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in three remote NSW communities is set to launch in February 2016, led by the University of Sydney's Poche Centre for Indigenous Health.

The Healthy Teeth project, beginning in term one 2016, will see filtered chilled water fountains installed in Boggabilla Central School, Mungindi Central School and Toomelah Public School.

The scheme will also enlist a dedicated oral health aide within these schools to teach students the importance of brushing their teeth each morning, helping to encourage more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to shift their palates away from soft drinks and towards water.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, dental decay rates are more than twice as high among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children compared to non-Aboriginal children.

"There's a real blaming of people – you drink sugary drinks, you get bad teeth. But the water quality in some of these towns is so terrible and it's so hot that it's often cheaper to buy soft drink than a bottle of water," said Poche Centre Director Kylie Gwynne.

Small changes like providing palatable filtered water at school can make a huge difference for these children, improving their lifespan prospects, preventing illness and enhancing their quality of life.
Kylie Gwynne
Poche Centre health kit packing day 2014

"When we first went to these communities two years ago, so many children in these schools were in acute pain. Now no one is in pain and we are able to move to a more preventative approach."

Ahead of the program rollout next year, thousands of oral health kits bound for remote NSW as part of the pilot will be assembled at a community packing day at the University of Sydney on Tuesday 24 November.

More than 110 staff, student and alumni volunteers from the University are expected to join the event, packing biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes, toothpaste, water bottles and toothbrush containers into 5000 kits.  

Philanthropist Kay Van Norton Poche and Poche Centre co-founder Reg Richardson AM will also lend a hand on the day, with the kits distributed to communities in Boggabilla, Toomelah, Mungindi, Singleton, Narrabri, Inverell, Tingha, Glen Innes, Tenterfield and Moree.

"We couldn’t have predicted the stellar success the Poche Centre has enjoyed since it was first launched seven years ago," said Ms Van Norton Poche, who along with husband Greg Poche AO has donated more than $50 million to Aboriginal health initiatives.

"We're exceeding government outputs, training up local workforces in oral health, and making huge strides forward for health benchmarks in our communities.

"Most importantly, we're bringing basic necessities to those who need them most. I'm thrilled to be a part of this oral health kit packing day, and see time and again how such simple steps can make a lasting difference to people's lives." 

The new pilot project continues the work of the Poche Centre's highly successful Healthy Teeth Strategy, which together with their Aboriginal Health Service partners has delivered 8,000 oral health services in nine remote NSW communities since it launched earlier this year.

The Poche Centre's mobile oral health service, which delivers top-quality dental care and produces dentures in just four days, was also recently recognised as winner of the Community Engagement Category at the Australian Financial Review's Higher Education Awards.

The Health Kit Packing Day is supported by the NSW Centre for Oral Health Strategy, the NSW Australian Medical Association and the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health.

Event details

What: Health Kit Packing Day, run by the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health

When: Tuesday 24 November, 10am to 2pm

Where: Burkitt-Ford Lounge, Edward Ford Building (A27), The University of Sydney

Registrations: or +61 2 9114 0776

Health Kit Packing Day 2014

The Sydney Nursing School packed kits for the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health in 2014.