Yvonne Sardeson

Yvonne Sardeson

Yvonne gets the service she deserves

Yvonne Sardeson, 74, has dedicated most of her life to helping others. As a mother of five – three “homegrown” children and two “ready made” (adopted) as she refers to them – Yvonne somehow managed to find time to foster children, volunteer at the Geelong Foodbank and serve on the Citizenship Advice Bureau. A highly intelligent lady with a dry sense of humour, Yvonne is an inspiration to all who meet her.

Yvonne used to see a private dentist despite being eligible for public dental services. It was only when she received a large bill that she decided to seek treatment at the Barwon Health community dental clinic in Newcomb.

“Up until then I had felt that because I have rheumatic fever and dental health is so important to heart health, that I would pay for myself to go to a private dentist. So I would go to a private dentist every year and get my teeth checked. The last time I went it cost me $700 for three fillings and a clean because I don’t have private health insurance. I just knew that I couldn’t keep that up no matter how well I budgeted. So I thought I will try this system because I am eligible, I’m a pensioner. So I phoned up and they were wonderful. I got a very very nice South African dentist. And he was lovely, he treated me as a person.

After an examination and x-rays, Yvonne’s dentist advised her that he needed to extract some of her teeth.

“Because I have heart failure and I’m on blood thinners, the dentist decided to remove any tooth that looked like it wouldn’t last another three years. So I ended up having a few teeth out. The staff here guided me through the process and I felt very cared for. The whole process was excellent,” she says.

Yvonne was fitted for two partial dentures to fill in the gaps caused by the extractions. “Luke, the dental technician could not have been nicer. The fit of those teeth was wonderful. He promised me I would have them before my birthday and he kept his promise.” Once Yvonne finished her treatment, she had to wait for 12 months before she could go back on the waiting list and be eligible for another check-up.

“There is quite a long gap between having your treatment and going back on the waiting list. I had to make an adjustment because before, when I was paying a private dentist, I could ring up and make an appointment whenever I needed a check-up. With the public system you can’t do that and that’s fair enough. But I think that’s a bit short-sighted because prevention is always better than waiting for the end result. I think if you could have a prevention type system you would lessen the emergencies because you’re preventing dental problems.”

Despite having to adjust to waiting for appointments in the public system, Yvonne is incredibly grateful for the way the staff treated her. “A lot of people treat you like a subclass person when you’re a pensioner. It’s easy to be disparaging about peoples standards but that’s not fair. I didn’t choose to be a pensioner. My husband died when he was 51. He was ill for 11 years before that. How do you prepare for a future when your future suddenly stops at 51 and you have five children? We didn’t know he was going to get sick when he was 40. The future we planned came to a full stop and now I’m in the position of being on a pension. That’s life.”

Yvonne has experienced more grief in her 74 years that any person should. Fifteen years ago she lost a son.

“We adopted my youngest son when he was 18 months. We used to do pre-adoption fostering. He wasn’t well enough to be adopted so we had him for six months, then we had him for a year, and then the boys said, ‘Can we keep him please?’ They didn’t want him to live with anyone else. He suicided when he was 27. He had depression. He was gay and that’s another community that is vilified and discriminated against.”

Living through such a painful loss reinforced Yvonne’s passion for helping people who are suffering.

“The refugees who are brought out on bridging visas need some help. If they’ve been in camps, their dental health is not going to be any good. There is a huge group of people who are homeless, mentally ill perhaps, suffering from addiction and they slip through all the cracks. If you had someone from the established community who could build up that liaison, it would help.

“You also need to pick up the people on really low incomes that can’t budget well and who aren’t eligible for public services. They might be just over the threshold but because of their low education standards, they fall through the cracks. They don’t know how to budget, they don’t know how to cook properly.”

So what would Yvonne do if given the task of improving the oral health of Victorians?

“The lass that ran the Foodbank in Geelong insisted on having toothbrushes and toothpaste and women’s products available for free, because those things are expensive. If you go into a supermarket and look at the toothbrushes, that is the price of a carton of milk and a mum will buy the milk for her child rather than the toothbrush and the toothpaste. We’ve got a needle scheme for addicts, perhaps we need a toothbrush and paste scheme.

Yvonne is all for incorporating dental treatment into Medicare.

“Given that dental health is so important to prevent other illnesses, I cannot believe that we don’t have a good funded dental service in Australia. I wouldn’t have any worries if it was incorporated into Medicare and, even on a pension, you could pay a levy.

“When it comes to your teeth, prevention is better than waiting till the end result. But the system now doesn’t support that.”

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Last updated: 2013-08-13