In conjunction with Catholic Community Services of Utah, College of Dental Medicine (CODM) at Roseman University of Health Sciences provided free dental care for 150 refugees living in Utah on August 19, 2022. In recent months, Utah has had an influx of refugees from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Sudan, Venezuela, Honduras, Syria, Uganda, China and Congo.   

According to an article in the National Library of Medicine, during periods of displacement, relocation, and adaptation, refugees are often forced to prioritize other immediate needs – such as food, shelter, and safety – before addressing oral health concerns. However, oral health is often a significant health issue. Refugee populations have consistently been shown to have worse oral health even when compared to traditionally disadvantaged and underserved populations in their host country. Factors contributing to this health care disparity include lack of oral health care infrastructure in source countries, challenging migration trajectories, difficulty accessing care upon arrival to host countries, and individual health beliefs and practices.   

“As a result of a lack of oral health care, refugees suffer pain, stress, and negative self-perception,” said Dr. Ryan Moffat, Assistant Professor for the CODM at Roseman. “When refugees are placed in cultures which highly value the cosmetic appearance of teeth, poor dentition can carry a strong social stigma, decreasing chances of employability and creating social challenges for children in school. Frequently missing work because of emergency dental treatment needs could result in employment termination and educational opportunities can be affected.” 

Give New Utahns a Smile is an effort to address the immediate needs of these refugees.  Fortunately, at CODM, many students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds and spoke the language of many of the refugees. Students addressed the immediate dental needs the clients had and provided comprehensive oral examinations, dental cleanings, and dental restorations free of charge.  

Among those who received dental care that day was Fareed Poya Masouda, a refugee from Afghanistan, and his wife. Masouda worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Kabul prior to its withdrawal from the country. 

“It’s an incredible help,” Masouda said of the dental clinic. “The way I see it, is they are taking care of every part of us, whether it is medical concerns, dental – it’s incredible.” 

The Masouda’s have three children ages 7, 5 and 3; the family has been in Utah for three months. 

“I really appreciate all the people who helped us, who saved our lives,” Masouda said. “Now we are really happy, with our kids going to school. My wife is happy and there is no stress anymore and no depression anymore. We’re really excited and happy to be here without fear of being threatened, of being killed or tortured.” 

Follow-up services will be provided for free to those refugees who participated in the clinic last month. 

“We would love to continue this kind of relationship with this community of refugees,” Moffat said. “They are wonderful individuals, and they have a need. We feel like they have a lot to contribute to our community here in Utah. If we can provide them with an opportunity to have a nice-looking smile and good oral health, we feel like that will help these refugees be able to continue to contribute.” 

CODM recognizes there are many other refugees in Utah, in addition to the 150 seen last month, who have significant oral health needs.  As such, CODM hopes to assist Utah refugees through future similar events.