When it comes to the many hurdles refugees face when resettling in our region, oral health may not be top of mind for anyone without firsthand experience. But the truth is that many people who are coming to this country seeking a better life are often in need of significant dental care and may have trouble navigating the dental system to find it.
To help address this issue, the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria’s Oral Health Pathways program helps address these needs by increasing access to dental clinics and services, and helping ease the burden on newcomers, who may not speak English or understand the Canadian health care system.
“At the moment we have many newly arrived refugees temporarily housed in hotels, some with serious dental needs,” said Deb Hamblin, Special Projects Coordinator with ICA. “Poor oral health has a negative effect on quality of life. Pain from a tooth can result in restricted food intake and nutritional deficiency, and can contribute to other health problems. Being able to access dental care eliminates stress and other factors, allowing the client to focus on other important issues of resettlement.”
As a recent example, Hamblin described two clients, one Arabic speaking and one Somali refugee, who required access to emergency dental care. Through the ICA’s program, both were provided with an interpreter and directed to the Cool Aid dental clinic, where they received antibiotics, pain killers, x-rays, and restoration services. They were also given appointments for follow up.
Green Shield Canada provides funds to support the work of ICA and its clients. Dental kits and dental education provided though Green Shield’s funding has increased oral health outcomes for clients. The kits are distributed during dental health sessions and to date more than 250 dental kits have been distributed to children, youth, and adults.
Green Shield, in conjunction with funding from ICA, also provides money for newcomer children to access oral health screening at the dental clinic at Camosun College. Children and youth receive an appointment for a dental screening that includes cleaning, polishing, fluoride application, x-rays, sealants, and oral health education.
The results can make a significant difference in the lives of those seeking support.
“While there continues to be oral health disparities for refugees, it is rewarding to be able to offer clients the individual support they need to seamlessly access individualized dental care,” said Hamblin. “It can be challenging to arrange interpretation and coordinate appointments, but the result, seeing someone no longer physically in pain and distressed, is worthwhile. … It can be life changing for a refugee who has never seen a dentist. When their smile is restored, their confidence, ability to find work, and quality of life improves tremendously.”
Hamblin and the ICA offered gratitude for those who support this program.
“I want to thank Green Shield and the Victoria Foundation for funding our oral health programs. There continues to be disparities in oral health for refugees and other vulnerable immigrants, and your support is invaluable. It makes a difference in so many lives.”