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Refugee Health Program: Oral Health

Health care providers play an important role in promoting oral health. Pay extra attention to refugee oral health during medical appointments.

Set aside time for basic oral exams. Also allow time to educate your patients on oral health.

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 practices around oral health
  • Likely need education on oral hygiene

In addition, refugees may have a high risk of poor oral health due to:

  • Torture-related injuries to the mouth and face
  • Lack of dental services in war time
  • Prolonged stays in refugee camps
  • Poor diet and nutrition in camps
  • Lack of water fluoridation
  • The impact of ongoing anxiety This can lead to issues such as acid reflux, teeth grinding, and less motivation for self-care.

Oral disease may be more common in some parts of the world. In all countries, oral disease is much more common among poor and disadvantaged groups of people.

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

Health care providers should conduct a basic oral health screening during appointments. At that time, they should 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 barriers to oral health care

Social impact

Oral health is closely related to quality of life. It can impact a person’s:

  • Nutrition.
  • Sleep.
  • Psychological status.
  • Social interaction.
  • School.
  • Work.

A person’s food choices and nutrition can be affected by:

  • Tooth loss.
  • Diminished salivary functions.
  • Pain.
  • Altered taste.

Oral-facial pain can lead to:

  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Depression.
  • Negative psychosocial outcomes.

More than any other body part, the face bears the stamp of individual identity. How one looks has an effect on psychological development and social relationships. The mouth and teeth are important to both verbal and nonverbal communication. Poor oral health can affect self-image, It may also alter the ability to build social relationships. For refugees seeking employment or acceptance in their new communities, poor oral condition and especially tooth loss can give a negative first impression. These factors are interrelated and they can greatly impact quality of life for refugees.

Who to contact for help


Related topics

Oral Health Program

Last revised December 30, 2022