High unmet need for dental care is causing pain, embarrassment, and worry and reducing quality of life among Syrian refugees, according to a survey of 62 adult Syrian refugees resettled in Dunedin in New Zealand conducted by the University of Otago. Its researchers also found that financial issues are perceived as a barrier to these refugees receiving oral healthcare.
Little is known about the oral health of Syrian refugees, said lead researcher Jonathan Broadbent, BDS, PhD, an associate professor with the university’s Faculty of Dentistry. While the research did not investigate whether similar refugees in other parts of the country are experiencing the same problems, he expects the situation to be similar nationally.
As a result, Broadbent is calling for a national protocol to standardize what dental care services are available and funded and how they should be accessed
“Access to post-settlement oral healthcare for refugees is currently unsatisfactory, and dental clinicians and refugees are both placed into a different situation when pathways are unclear,” said Broadbent.
“Oral healthcare should be accessible to refugees and other at-risk population groups to ensure they enjoy good oral health and overall well-being and that their human rights are being realized,” he said. “It is concerning that more than 70% of former refugees reported current dental pain and fewer than 40% had a dental checkup within the 18 months since their arrival.”
Most of those surveyed perceived their oral health as “poor” or “very poor,” and many had additional comments about their dental problems.
“I am very tired from all the dental problems I have, no one contacted me for dental treatment, please help me,” one said.
“I want treatment because I feel self-conscious and have no confidence to smile. I feel like I have a bad smell all the time from my mouth,” another said.
In New Zealand, newly arrived refugees spend six weeks in an orientation program at the Mangere Refugee Settlement Centre in Auckland. It includes an oral health screening and treatment for emergency dental problems.
Almost all refugees qualify for limited financial assistance for dental care in New Zealand. However, nearly half reported that they had not received assistance, and many were not aware of the options available to them.
The research did not involve collection of clinical examination data, which Broadbent should be done in future research to better quantify dental care need requirements nationally among Syrian refugees. Yet this lack of clinical data should not impede efforts to improve care, he said, noting that as someone who has treated some of these patients, their needs are very high.