The history and future of the WA Dental Foundation

09/06/2022 | 3 mins

In the late nineties, the future of UWA Dental School was clouded — accreditation requirements were changing, the school was expensive to manage and the facilities near Royal Perth Hospital were old and run down.

Together, a band of dedicated dental alumni and industry leaders established the Western Australian Dental Foundation (WADF) to support UWA Dental School. The first goal was to attract funds to employ another academic leader, and the dental community answered the call.  

UWA’s Vice Chancellor found resources for more academic staff that were essential for Dental School accreditation.

Thanks to the advocacy of Dr Michael McGuiness AM BDSc '78, who became Head of School in 1999, then premier Richard Court invested in the establishment of the Oral Health Centre of WA (OCHWA). It opened in 2002 and transformed the facilities available for patient care, training and research.

A recognition wall for the WADF Founding Fellows group, who donated in 2001-2002, sits at the entrance of this facility which remains the primary hub of dental education in Western Australia.  

Professor Hien Ngo, Head of School, remembers when there was concern for the future of the UWA Dental School.

“I was an academic at University of Adelaide during those years, and we were advised to prepare for the possible transfer of students from UWA," Professor Ngo said. "I am extremely glad for the people of WA that the community and the University came together to secure UWA Dental School’s future.”  

Since 2011, students that meet equity criteria have benefited from Western Australian Dental Foundation Scholarships. Inaugural recipient Dr Jonathan Lo is now Principal Dentist of his own practice, Maylands Dental Centre. He is a Council Member of the Australian Dental Health Foundation, Member of the Australian Dental Association and Member of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons. Recipient Dr Nathan Turner recently completed his degree and has relocated to Burnie, Tasmania, as a Dental Officer in the Oral Health Services Tasmania Graduate program. The latest recipient of the scholarship is Ms Chantel Pei-Yeu Chen.

The Alistair Devlin Memorial Scholarship  established in 2014 in memory of paediatric dentist, clinical academic and WA Dental Foundation founding fellow, Dr Alistair Devlin  has enabled paediatric dentists to develop and bring new expertise and networks back to WA. Dr Rodney Jennings, Dr Chaturi Wathuragamage, Dr Jilen Patel and Dr Gregory Celine are all alumni of this program. Now WA borders have re-opened, following the disruption of COVID-19, new candidates will soon be sought to continue this distinguished legacy.  

Financial need grants have also been offered to students in recent years. In 2019, Australian Dental Association WA (ADAWA) published a series of stories about Dr Peter Terzi, Dr Bec Penco and Dr Sarmah Nayeem who were recipients of the grantsThis vital support continued in 2020, as the group suffered loss of income and other financial stresses due to COVID-19 lockdowns. 

WADF has also supported research goals with the acquisition of equipment for the dental research lab including the purchase of an Ion S5 next-generation sequencer and Ion Chef sequencing robot to better understand the risk of oral lesions transforming into cancer.

WADF is now entering a new memorandum of understanding with UWA to reinvigorate the Advisory Board that endorses the allocation of funds and a new project to contribute to the ongoing success of UWA Dental School. The refurbishment of the Dental Clinical Simulation Laboratory in the Oral Health Centre of WA will refresh these educational facilities for a new generation of dentists.

Alumni and friends of UWA Dental School are invited to contact the current WADF advisory board or Development Manager Kate McKenzie at kate.mckenzie@uwa.edu.au to learn more about this exciting project.

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