Whether refugees have never had access to dental care or just limited access, they often arrive in the U.S. with dental issues. While they receive a comprehensive medical exam, there is currently no provision for dental screening.  As a result, Sue Reynolds and Malita Gardner, managers in the Education Department at World Relief in DuPage, partnered with College Church and invited the DuPage County Health Department offers free dental screenings for the students who attend ESL classes at the church those in need.

According to Beth Enke, Assistant Director of the Dental Program for DuPage County, poor oral health can lead to chronic pain, heart disease, and diabetes.  And because oral health is directly related to overall health, Enke and her team regularly conduct free dental screenings for populations in need. 

The dental program representatives were at the church for an entire week, and by the end of class on Friday, approximately 160 refugees received a dental screening---many for the first time. On Monday and Tuesday, the Dental Program team visited the ESL classes and educated the adults on how to care for their teeth and their children’s teeth.  Then on Thursday and Friday, they examined the adults and provided information on where they can get a free cleaning.  Those with a decay problem were referred to an area dentist who accepts Medicaid.  Furthermore, one refugee patient was immediately scheduled to see an oral surgeon due to signs of oral cancer.

Currently, the tooth decay rate in DuPage County is 52%. “The leading reason kids miss school is tooth decay or a dental problem; therefore, the younger we can screen them the better,” said Enke.  As a result, pre-school children enrolled in the WRD Early Education Program were examined along with their parents.  Plus, if they were able to tolerate the exam well, they had their teeth cleaned by the Smile Squad in the mobile dental unit.

With the goal of screening nearly 6,000 DuPage County residents per year, Enke looks forward to bringing the Dental Program back to World Relief and continuing to offer free dental assistance to the refugee population in DuPage County.