31 May 2024

This Illawarra tooth fairy traded her wings for wheels

| Dione David
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Oral Hygienist Yung Starling with a patient in front of the Starling Mobile Dental Care bus

Yung Starling takes her hard-won oral hygienist skills all over the Illawarra – and beyond. Photos: Starling Mobile Dental Care.

A romance, a last-minute switcheroo, an impromptu overseas trip and unexpected kindness formed the origins of the Illawarra’s newest mobile dentistry service.

Yung Starling’s parents had saved up to send her older sister to Australia, but when that sister fell in love and decided to stay in Vietnam, there was a last-minute scramble to change the paperwork into Yung’s name so the fees wouldn’t go to waste.

So in 1999, without a word of English in her vocabulary and $100 in her pocket, a 24-year-old Yung arrived in Sydney.

Limited as she was by the language barrier, she took what work she could get to pay the rent and send money home.

“I’ve been a kitchen hand, a cleaner, a laundry girl … sometimes all three in a day, seven days a week,” she says.

If the work was tough, things at home weren’t better. Yung eventually fled domestic violence at the hands of her then-husband and took refuge at a women’s shelter in Bondi, where everything changed.

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The shelter’s landlord was a ward clerk at Mater Hospital where Yung worked as a cleaner. Each day they’d drive to and from work together and in that time, they crossed the language divide.

“She spoke to me and I would talk back in my broken English. She told me ‘You don’t want to be a cleaner for the rest of your life’. She advised me to try oral hygiene,” she says.

“I still call her my Aussie mum.”

In 2009 Yung graduated with a Bachelor of Oral Health from the University of Newcastle, and eventually she landed a job as a dental hygienist.

She fell in love with the industry, and after a decade as a dental hygienist, she returned to the university to complete a Bachelor of Oral Health Therapy.

“I’m sure a lot of people find that weird. How can you be passionate about looking into people’s mouths?” Yung laughs.

“A lot of people don’t realise it until there’s a problem, but your oral health impacts your overall health in a big way. I have seen how we can fix problems with people’s teeth and the profound impact that can have on the quality of their lives.

“I’ve also worked with people who have hidden their smiles their whole lives because they’re self-conscious about their teeth. After we fix them, they can’t stop smiling, and it’s a wonderful thing.”

Yung eventually met her current husband, a Thirroul gardener named Adam, and moved to the Illawarra. In January this year she opened her own dentistry practice – on wheels.

Starling Mobile Dental Care allows Yung to bring smiles to people no matter where they are, travelling to homes and businesses and servicing everyone from toddlers at daycare to the elderly in nursing homes.

With her husband behind the wheel, a nurse, dentist and dental technician on retainer and a wheelchair-accessible van with modified equipment, Yung can accommodate dental treatments in the van or the comfort of clients’ homes.

“I wanted it to be a mobile service because it was important to be able to service different communities and demographics,” she says.

“I find the problems people experience tend to be different at different stages in their lives.”

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Yung also volunteers monthly at a cerebral palsy clinic in Sydney, and earlier this year used her skills at the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu to help treat nearly 200 monks in 10 working days.

It’s important to her to use her skills to “pay it forward”.

“I’m conscious that dental care is so fundamentally important to people’s health, yet not everyone has the same access to it,” she says.

“There were people in my life who helped me get where I am today, so I hope to use my skills to help others.”

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