Dr Gavin Quek

Dr Gavin Quek

Childhood fear to dental career

Dr Gavin Quek at Kingston Beach Dental, his work place in Tasmania

Dr Gavin Quek at Kingston Beach Dental, his work place in Tasmania.

"I was terrified of the dentist when I was a child. I’d be told to sit in a chair and be quiet"

I have always dreaded dental check-ups and procedures, the sound of the drill and the feeling of being trapped in the dental chair always filled me with anxiety. However, over the years, that fear transformed into curiosity, leading me to delve deeper into the world of dentistry.

In 2017, I left Malaysia to pursue a degree in Dentistry at the University of Adelaide, driven by that very curiosity that had once frightened me.

Dr Gavin Quek with proud mum, Ann on graduation day.

Dr Gavin Quek with proud mum, Ann on graduation day.

In my final year of studies, I began working in the university’s Community Outreach Dental Program, where Dentistry students can volunteer three hours a week or more to provide dental treatment for the marginalised.

This really opened my eyes to the poor oral health in disadvantaged communities, particularly the homeless. It was disconcerting to see the vast difference in oral health and general health outcomes for marginalised people in our community compared to others. The people I worked with in the program were mainly homeless, marginalised, couldn’t afford dental treatments and most were not eligible for dental care under the government schemes. I knew then I wanted to improve the oral health disparity where I could.

When people are homeless and marginalised, there can be a lot of dental issues going on at the same time and often more complex dental treatments are required where costs are normally the barrier. We were able to help many of them through University of Adelaide’s volunteer program.

"The more curious I became about how oral health contributes to overall health, the more I knew I could do even more outside of my surgery and in the community."

Today, I work as a full-time dental surgeon in Tasmania, where I try to set aside time to providing pro bono dental treatments to individuals experiencing homelessness and victims of domestic violence where I can. I volunteer as an oral health educator for refugees and migrants, knowing that good oral health contributes to improved overall health. I had the privilege of giving a TEDx talk earlier this year about how curiosity drives contribution, a lesson I've learned from my own life.

On stage at TEDx Hobart, speaking on ‘How curiosity drives contribution.

"It is curiosity that drives us to seek new knowledge, new experiences and new perspectives. It is curiosity that pushes us to ask questions, to challenge assumptions and explore the unknown. It is curiosity that fuels creativity, innovation and progress."

Looking back, I'm struck by the fact that all of this came about because I allowed myself to be curious and, more importantly, acted on that curiosity to contribute to my community.

One of the most rewarding parts of my journey is being a part of something bigger than myself – trying to advance oral health for Australians knowing that oral health is integral to general health and wellbeing. I am grateful to have the knowledge and capacity to help and improve the lives of those who may not be as privileged.

Receiving the 2023 Tasmania Premier’s Young Achiever of the Year Award

Receiving the 2023 Tasmania Premier’s Young Achiever of the Year Award.

I might have never walked down this path if it wasn’t for Margie Steffens and Amanda Drewer, who were a big part of the Community Outreach Dental Program when I was a student. Through my work, I also hope to inspire others to make a positive difference in their own communities, in a way that is meaningful to them.

"Doing this work continues to provide me with a deep sense of fulfilment and purpose."

Dr Gavin Quek graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 2021.

Just two years after graduating, Dr Quek has been recognised for his significant contributions. He is Hobart’s Young Citizen of the Year and Premier’s Young Achiever of the Year, has been awarded the Heather and Christopher Chong Community Service and Volunteering Award, and was recently awarded the Rising Star Award by Study Adelaide’s International Student Awards. He hopes to be able to continue his advocacy for oral health through his work.