smiles ear to ear


Helping people one smile at a time, Oral Health Therapist Nicole Cockburn has been recognised at the 2017 HESTA Primary Health Care Awards, receiving the Young Leader Award for her outstanding leadership in developing a free dental service for homeless youth.


It’s easy to take for granted the basic items we use every day: soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste. But for people who are doing it tough and sleeping rough, these everyday necessities can be hard to come by. Fortunately, a new Brisbane based service is helping those in need by providing homeless youth free dental treatment and oral health education.

Motivated to have a positive impact on the community Nicole worked closely with homeless youth organisation, Brisbane Youth Service, to successfully secure funding to set up Dental Rescue Week.

Run by volunteer dental practitioners four times a year, Dental Rescue Week offers homeless youth free dental examinations, cleans, fillings, oral hygiene education and referral information for treatment.

Nicole says winning the award highlights the important role oral health therapists, who provide primary and preventative dental services to children and adults, have in improving Australians’ knowledge about oral health.

“I believe this award doesn't just recognise me and my project, but also all the other oral health therapists across Australia who do similar work in disadvantaged and special needs communities,” Nicole says. 

Creating equal access

Nicole says the most rewarding part of developing the service is seeing its positive outcomes for the patients and community, helping to improve health equity for homeless youth.  

“When a young homeless person is able to attend a job interview because their tooth has been fixed and they can now smile, I find that very rewarding. I believe everyone deserves equal access to dental care, regardless of their background or circumstances. This is not an issue that can be fixed overnight and I find my work rewarding as everything I do helps close the gap in access to dental care for the community,” Nicole says.

Nicole says she plans to use the $10,000 prize money from the award win to take part in health research conferences and to continue her education by putting some of the money towards her PhD.

"I believe everyone deserves equal access to dental care, regardless of their background or circumstances. "

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A story worth celebrating?

Health and community services is full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, day in, day out, across Australia. That's why we came up with the HESTA Awards Program.