Oral Health Champions at genU – supporting the journey to a good life and taking control

Ms Margery Pithouse1, Ms Bonnie Morrison2

1Genu Karingal St Laurence, Geelong, Australia, 2Dental Health Services Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

People with disability often have poorer oral health than the general community, and experience difficulties and complications in maintaining oral health. At genU this has been the impetus to establish a group of Oral Health Champions to improve the oral health of the people they support in Shared and Respite Living.

genU is a provider of residential disability services, with 150-170 residents (the majority of whom have an intellectual disability) in 21 houses (permanent shared and respite) across Victoria.  We provide support via teams of staff, and in each house a staff member nominated to be the “Oral Health Champion”.  We partnered with the government run Dental Health Services Victoria to develop resources and an ongoing service model that would support the oral health challenges for people with an intellectual disability.

These volunteer champions are responsible for: attending training, learning about oral health and how to apply it in their disability setting, and then taking this knowledge back to the team to assist their clients with strategies for improving their oral health.

The following resources have been developed as a result:

  • An oral health policy
  • A video entitled “Sally’s visit to the dentist”. This video (funded by DHSV) was filmed with volunteer staff and our star actors , Sally, is a woman with an intellectual disability. It uses real people in real situations, and is effective in assisting people with a disability to feel more in control about visiting the dentist
  • Tooth cleaning records – to be used with and by the people with an intellectual disability that we support to monitor their teeth cleaning and tooth brush quality and replacement
  • An Oral Health Champions Agreement – document describing the role of the staff member as Oral Health Champion
  • A duty statement for oral health – a person centred document that allows staff to work with the people with an intellectual disability that they support, to describe the way in which they want to be supported to maintain good oral health.

This has been a new area of practice for these staff, who have been upskilled and taken on leadership in how to improve oral health with other staff and the people they support.

To provide the story of the journey to improving oral health outcomes for people with an intellectual disability at genU .

What participants with take away from this workshop:

  1. They will be re-oriented in service delivery to include a focus on oral health and assisting a person with a disability to take control of their oral health
  2. Some tools to do this:
    1. the video “Sally’s visit to the dentist” – viewing of this and information on how to locate for use in by other service providers
    2. the Oral Health Champion model – described and offered for adoption and adaptation by other service providers
    3. copies of documents that support the Oral Health Champions at genU – offered for adoption/adaptation by other service providers

Description of session format – 1 hr workshop:

  1. Brief presentation about the background of the Oral Health Champions group – how it got going, how it is maintained.

Time for discussion/questions about the actual program

  1. Screening of Sally’s visit to the dentist – (a take-away from this workshop)

Time for discussion/questions about the video – its use

  1. Dissemination of documentation – handouts to share and discuss
  2. Duty Statements – practical exercise. Workshop participants to complete the Duty Statement with themselves as person to be supported.  Workshop participants to complete the Duty Statement a second time for a person with an intellectual disability that they know/support.

Time for discussion/questions about the duty statement.


Margery Pithouse is the Senior Practice Advisor to staff in shared and Respite Living at genU, Victoria.  With a passion for both person centred active support and vocational education and training, Margery is responsible for attempting to keep the staff team focussed on “doing wih” not “doing for”.

Bonnie Morrison is a Health Promotion Officer at Dental Health Services Victoria. Most recently she has been responsible for exploring ways to build the capacity of disability services to support better oral health for people with disabilities in Victoria.

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