Refugee Health: Oral Health

Extra attention should be given to refugee oral health during medical appointments.

Time should be allotted to conduct basic oral examinations as well as education at refugee medical appointments.

A mirror uses to check teeth.


Why is oral health a special concern for refugees?


  • Often had little to no access to dental care in homeland
  • May be unfamiliar with Western concepts, beliefs, and practices around oral health
  • Likely need education on oral hygiene

Refugees may have a high risk of poor oral health due to:

  • Torture-related injuries to the mouth and face
  • Closure/disruption of dental services in war
  • Prolonged stays in refugee camps
  • Poor diet and nutrition in camps
  • Lack of water fluoridation
  • The impact of prolonged anxiety (including acidic reflux, grinding, and reduced motivation for self-care)

The prevalence of oral disease varies by geographical region, and availability and accessibility of oral health services. In all countries, the oral disease burden is significantly higher among poor and disadvantaged population groups.

What is the role of health care providers in relation to oral health care for new refugees?

Health care providers should be prepared to conduct a basic oral health screening during appointments and educate refugees on:

  • Best oral hygiene practices
  • The role of fluoride
  • The use of preventive oral health services
  • Early identification and referral for oral health concerns
  • Overcoming potential barriers to oral health care

Social impact

Oral health is closely related to quality of life. Nutrition, sleep, psychological status, social interaction, school, and work are affected by impaired oral health.

Tooth loss, diminished salivary functions, pain, alterations in taste, and functional limitations of prosthetic replacements contribute to limitations in food selection and poor nutrition.

Oral-facial pain is associated with sleep deprivation, depression, and multiple adverse psychosocial outcomes.

More than any other body part, the face bears the stamp of individual identity. How one looks has an important effect on psychological development and social relationships. Considering the importance of the mouth and teeth in verbal and nonverbal communication, diseases that disrupt their functions are likely to damage self-image and alter the ability to sustain and build social relationships. For refugees seeking employment or acceptance in their new communities, poor dentition and especially tooth loss may contribute to a negative first impression. These factors are interrelated and can be a major source of diminished quality of life for refugees.

Questions about Refugee Health? Contact Us!
Phone: 608-261-6319 ǀ Fax: 608-266-0049

Last Revised: July 20, 2022