Refugees Have Limited Access to Dental Checkups and Screenings

Photo by C. Wachiaya/UNHCR

Dentistry Today
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Photo by C. Wachiaya/UNHCR

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are more than 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, and 26 million of them are refugees. 

In June 2019, the FDI World Dental Federation surveyed its member national dental associations (NDAs) to measure the burden of oral disease among refugees in each member country. 

The survey also served to determine if oral health education and treatment are routinely offered to refugees and established a need to reinforce access to oral healthcare for refugees more broadly, FDI said.

FDI received 102 survey responses from member NDAs, chief dental officers, and affiliated organizations. Of the respondents, 44% are aware of emergency dental services available to refugees, but they indicated that access to routine dental care remains low. 

Only 4% of those surveyed said that dental screening for refugees is offered upon arrival in the host countries. Also, fewer than half of the survey respondents are involved in advocacy actions to make oral care for refugees a health priority. 

Oral health conditions among refugees should be addressed in the same way as other health concerns, FDI says. These survey results will inform FDI’s upcoming advocacy guide for member NDAs and their partners to improve and support the provision of oral healthcare for refugees. 

“We hope to work with national dental associations, governments, civil society, the private sector, and refugees themselves to find joint solutions to promote oral health,” said Dr. Elham Kateeb, FDI public health committee member and leader of the survey.

Many refugees have limited access to therapeutic dental care and preventive services. Barriers to dental care vary and may include treatment costs, lack of dental insurance, limited availability of dentists, low oral health literacy, language barriers, and other cultural and psychological barriers. 

FDI launched the Refugee Oral Health Promotion and Care Project in 2018 to gather data on different countries’ experiences, solutions, and epidemiological data on providing oral care to refugees. This data then will be synthesized to develop clinical, policy, and societal recommendations to ensure better oral health outcomes for refugee patients.

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