Jijesh puts smiles back into Nhulunbuy
When Dr Jijesh Nhalila Valappil first arrived in Australia from Bengaluru in 2007, he had no idea where Nhulunbuy was let alone that he would be working there one day.
Today he is the town's only private dentist, plying his trade in one of Australia's most remote communities, 1,000km east of Darwin on the coast of Arnhem Land.
This tropical paradise on the Gove Peninsula has become a land of opportunity for Dr Valappil (pictured at one of the local beaches). He established his Nhulunbuy practice with assistance from the Dental Relocation and Infrastructure Support Scheme (DRISS).
DRISS has provided him with the funds to help set up his new business, Gentle Dentist Gove, providing much-needed private dental services to Nhulunbuy's 3,000 people.
Dr Valappil is in Nhulunbuy each week working two to three days treating mine workers, teachers, hospital staff and people employed in local Indigenous communities.
"The tropical environment is beautiful here," he says. "Everyone knows each other and you feel very connected to the community."
Since his arrival, Dr Valappil has also generated extra employment for two dental nurses who have been supplementing their income with part-time work. This has led to some unusual booking arrangements.
"They are Gove locals and they work at the supermarket and one of them also works at the pub," explained Dr Valappil.
"Everyone knows they work for the dentist so they just ask them for an appointment in the street, at the checkout or over the counter at the pub."
There are other signs that the dentistry is different in this corner of Australia. For example, community members are actually HAPPY to see a dentist.
Dr Valappil thinks it has something to do with the tropical lifestyle. "It's certainly a lot easier when your patients are relaxed," he says. "They are a lot easier to treat."
The fact that Nhulunbuy was without private dental services for six months before Dr Valappil's arrival from Brisbane may also explain the warm welcome.
Locals suffering toothache were booking themselves on flights to Cairns, Bali and beyond in order to get treatment.
Dr Valappil came across Nhulunbuy's plight by chance while travelling with a friend in Queensland. He was in Cooktown where he saw a story in a local newspaper about the dental issue in Nhulunbuy - and decided to do something about it.
Ever since opening his Nhulunbuy practice, the appointment book has been full and Dr Valappil has been busy dividing his time between his other clinic on the Gold Coast.
"The lack of dentistry in the Gove area had built up quite a list of patients who had lots of work that needed to be done, and rather urgently," he recalled in a recent interview with Bite dental magazine.
"The worst I can remember is a patient who needed 15 fillings, 7 crowns and the removal of 6 teeth. His entire mouth was a mess."
Fortunately, cases like these are now the exception rather than the norm, with Dr Valappil relishing the challenge of making a difference to the town.
"I am finally seeing a change, and now 40 per cent of the appointment book is people returning to get their teeth cleaned or for follow-up work," he told Bite.
And what does the community think? Just check out some of the posts on the Gove Noticeboard facebook site.
"Awesome service this practice provides," wrote Dolina.
"Sensational team, we highly recommend," wrote Nat.
Clearly, there are smiles all round now in Nhulunbuy.