Coming up smiles in the Latrobe Valley

Latrobe Community Health Service’s dental prosthetics laboratory in Churchill

A dental prosthetics lab in the Latrobe Valley is helping students start their careers as dental technicians, providing vital services to locals.

After switching jobs - from correctional officer to dental technician - Gippsland local Ashleigh Angwin is providing vital dental health services to her community.

In search of a new challenge, Ashleigh applied for a Diploma of Dental Technology in 2018 through RMIT University.Lisa Palmer (left) and Ashleigh Angwin (right) work at Latrobe Community Health Service’s dental prosthetics lab after completing their apprenticeships at the site

With the help of regional Victoria’s largest community health service provider – Latrobe Community Health Service (LCHS) – Ashleigh completed almost three years of hands-on training at LCHS’s dental lab in Churchill as part of her degree.

The lab specialises in creating and repairing dentures for locals and is paving the way for dental technician graduates such as Ashleigh to go straight from their degree into full-time work.

The LCHS prosthetics lab also offers tooth repairs such as crowns and inlays for teeth and holds large contracts to manufacture prosthetics for other health providers, including Peninsula Health.

“When I first applied, I was looking for a new challenge in the Latrobe Valley to change things up and I found the opportunity for a Dental Technician apprenticeship at LCHS. I thought that I’d be really good at it, and it fell into place,” Ashleigh says.

Ashleigh is now working in the lab after completing her diploma of dental technology in 2021.

Dental technician courses are often taught at university campuses in Melbourne. For Ashleigh, having the chance to complete the bulk of the course closer to home makes LCHS’s lab a gamechanger in the region.

“The opportunity to do practical work at the lab in the Latrobe Valley while studying means students can do their placement hours in real jobs with real people and clients, helping them really know what they’re getting into before graduating,” Ashleigh says.Ashleigh says the lab is a providing a key benefit for locals requiring dentures in the Latrobe Valley

“And having a local lab means they don’t have to move to the city and that way they get to stay in their regional community.”

The lab is also giving locals a chance to receive same-day denture repairs, which can be difficult to receive in regional areas like the Latrobe Valley.

This means that patients, who are often elderly, don’t have to trek to a dental hospital in Melbourne.

Creating the dentures involves a wax mould of a patient’s mouth which is then filled with acrylic or chrome to create the dentures.

“Many of our patients only have a healthcare card and don’t have extra money to spend and having a dental lab from a community health service in the area gives them an option to come and get quicker and more affordable work done,” Ashleigh says.

“I like the fact that when we make one of these dentures it’s helping someone to be able to eat normal foods again – and by giving our patients a new or repaired denture we are giving them a full smile again.”

Not only does the lab provide students with a pathway into work, it is setting the foundations for them to grow into new roles.

Lisa Palmer, who is also working at the lab as a dental technician after graduating, values the benefits the denture services are providing to the region.

After securing her role in October last year, she is already working to grow into a dental clinician role and to be more directly involved with the patients she supports.

“My favourite part of my job is when I either get a photo or a note from one of the clinicians that the patients were happy – and sometimes even emotional – after receiving a new or repaired denture,” she says.

“Next year, I want to apply for a clinician role so that I can see the patients and still work in the lab.”

By supporting students straight out of their degree, Latrobe Community Health Service is setting up new careers for Latrobe Valley locals and pathways to boost their knowledge even further by opening the door to new roles.

Through the Victorian Government’s support, the lab is continuing to support surrounding communities through its vital health care to the regions locals.

For more information about the dental prosthetics lab, visit Regional Development Victoria’s website.