Dental Mission Treats and Trains Syrian Refugees in Oral Healthcare

Dentistry Today


Othman Shibly, DDS, a professor at the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, travels to the borders of his native Syria twice a year to deliver dental care to more than 2,000 refugee children. However, that’s just 1% of the 200,000 children displaced by the ongoing Syrian civil war. To help bridge this gap, Shibly is turning to volunteers. 

Through the University at Buffalo Miles for Smiles program, Shibly will lead the training of teachers at refugee camps in Lebanon on how to perform basic oral healthcare. Made possible through a new partnership with Harvard University, Kings College London, Dental Mavericks, and Global Steps, the training will begin in the fall. 

The training will be followed by a Miles for Smiles mission in October. If successful, the program will advance Shibly’s goal of providing free oral healthcare and education to every child who lacks access to treatment due to the war.

“No matter how good we are in our missions, we can only treat so much. It would be impossible to have a significant impact on the oral health of refugees,” said Shibly. “Training and educating refugee volunteers will not only allow our vision and goals to reach thousands of refugees to improve their oral health, but it will also provide psychological and social support to refugees by making them partners in providing oral health.”

Shibly recently completed his fifteenth mission to the area, where he expanded care to teenagers and local children in Lebanon for the first time. During the trip, which ran from April 30 to May 6, he delivered treatment to 900 Syrian refugee children and 300 deprived and socially challenged Lebanese children. 

Volunteers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, King’s College London Dental Institute, Saint Joseph University of Beirut, and individual practitioners from the United States, France, and Kuwait helped Shibly fill cavities, perform extractions, deliver oral health education, and more. 

The Syrian American Medical Society, Multi Aid Programs, and other non-governmental organizations organized logistics and support. Henry Schein donated more than $25,000 worth of dental supplies and equipment. Since 2015, Henry Schein has donated more than $120,000 in dental materials and equipment to Miles for Smiles.

“Dr. Shibly’s extraordinary commitment to serving the oral health needs of young Syrian refugees and Lebanese children, combined with his vision for improving the local community’s capacity to deliver care, exemplifies the Henry Schein Cares spirit,” said Stanley M. Bergman, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Henry Schein. 

In addition to oral healthcare, Shibly aims to provide adequate housing for refugees with a new program to repair homes in Syria in exchange for the owner’s permission to allow refugee families to occupy the house for two years. With friends, he is financing the program out of pocket. They estimate each house will cost $500, or 250,000 Syrian pounds, to repair.

Nearly 70% of Syrian refugees live below the extreme poverty line of less than $2 per day, the United Nations reports. The program could provide Syrian refugees with an alternative to refugee camps, which are often overcrowded and have inhumane living conditions. 

Shibly also is working to reestablish some of the schools that he helped create after they were recently displaced by a bombing in Damascus, Syria’s capital. With the help of donations from various organizations, he assisting the schools’ move to northern Syria.

These students are not refugees. The schools, including elementary and secondary schools, educate the children of families who choose not to leave the war zone. The sooner the schools are settled, the faster they can return to providing a brighter future for the thousands of children affected by the war, Shibly said.

Since 2012, Shibly has helped open or support more than 20 dental clinics in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon and formed 14 schools in Syria that have taught more than 5,000 children.

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