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Children practice brushing their teeth ;

Dental aid for Rohingya refugees

In January 2019, dentistry student Matthew Billington travelled to Bangladesh to help provide dental aid to Rohingya refugees. Here, Matthew reflects on his experiences in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

I had the opportunity to be actively involved in a dental aid programme taking place in Rohingya Muslims refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

The programme is run by Refugee Crisis Foundation (RCF), a fantastic charity founded by past King’s College London Dentistry students, who provide medical and dental aid to refugees worldwide.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are currently living in deplorable conditions, as they have been forced to flee their homes in Myanmar and are in need of urgent medical attention. Following a needs assessment identifying dental aid as their priority, RCF set up a mobile dental clinic.

Oral health is a human right, and no child in the world should have to suffer from dental pain– Matthew Billington

I supported the process of initial triaging and care planning, whilst qualified dentists provided the dental care. We identified that strikingly severe labial tooth wear was highly prevalent, as a result of a range of risk factors; the majority of the Rohingya people complained of gastric reflux that was caused by their past experiences and living conditions resulting in high levels of stress. 

We distributed oral hygiene aids such as fluoride toothpaste and toothbrushes to every patient that came to visit us. On the final day, I led the new RCF initiative called “Healthy Smiles”, in which the dental team and I visited local schools to promote oral health and set up a toothbrushing program. The children were taught how to brush their teeth, how to wash their hands and how to eat a balanced diet. Altogether 350 tooth brushes and 500 tubes of fluoride toothpaste were kindly donated to the schools in the hope that for the next few months each child can brush their teeth every morning at school.

Dental student and refugee children pose for a photo

My experience in the Cox's Bazar is another reminder to me how massively privileged we are in the UK. We must not forget the people who need the help most. By taking a week out of my routine, I have been able to work in a team providing life changing aid to help children and adults to have pain free life and potentially save lives.

This project can have a substantial impact on the future oral health of these children, giving hope that they will not have to have decayed teeth extracted in the future. Oral health is a human right, and no child in the world should have to suffer from dental pain, and have all their deciduous teeth extracted due to decay.

We all have a skill, and I feel fortunate to have been able to use my skill to change someone’s life through working with RCF.

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