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Barriers to dental care

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Language, transport, cost and fear are just some of the barriers preventing refugees in our community from accessing much-needed dental services.

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Research funded by the University of Adelaide reveals that nearly 60 per cent of the more than 200 Middle Eastern refugees surveyed are currently in need of fillings due to dental decay, with almost 30 per cent requiring teeth to be extracted.

However, they are delaying dental care due to the associated costs, waiting times, a lack of interpreting services available and in some cases fear arising from torture or trauma that occurred in their home country.

Associate Professor Anna Ziersch from Flinders University and Dr Clemence Due from the University of Adelaide have looked at a range of factors impacting the wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers, with Prof Ziersch presenting some of the findings at a recent Justice for Refugees forum.

“One area of concern where there is great disparity between the general population and refugees is oral health,” Prof Ziersch said.

She outlined the results, revealing that more than 70 per cent of participants rated their oral health as “only fair to poor”.

“A majority said their oral health affected their general health, with some of the impacts being physiological (pain), functional (eating, sleeping, speaking) and aesthetic (embarrassment, self consciousness from missing teeth),” she said.

While some refugees surveyed were eligible for subsidised dental services it depended on their “visa and income” and it was “very changeable”.

Untreated dental decay, gum disease and physical dental trauma were being dealt with by refugees on a daily basis, with pain being the biggest concern to their general wellbeing.

“When you have pain in your mouth, in your teeth, it would be hard to enjoy your life every day,” one participant said.

“You know if the tooth is swollen or infected, you can’t think really. It’s like headache – you have something heavy on your face and can’t talk a lot,” said another.

Prof Ziersch said social inclusion of refugees was important.

“Being connected to others assisted people’s pathways to housing, to oral health services and to employment. Social inclusion is also linked to wellbeing,” she said.

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