News + Issues

Dentists help refugees during hard times

Nov. 2015: Refugees wait at the border between Greece and Macedonia.
Nov. 2015: Refugees wait at the border between Greece and Macedonia.

We often refer to our world as the “dental school bubble.” Our world consists of all things dentistry – exams, schedules, lab work, deadlines, and, of course, the latest gossip. Somehow this list often does not include anything external to school. My brother often jokes that at the end of each semester he’d like to have a video made for me called “Things you missed this year.” However, it is hard to miss the recent news of the terrorist attack on Paris and the Syrian refugee crisis. As headlines splash across social media, newspapers and news channels, we are faced with the harsh reality that the world is not limited to our more trivial concerns.

While being pushed to our limits with school, it is easy to forget how lucky we are to be here. We have the freedom to pursue our dreams and live our lives as we please. We watch horrific events on the news. We read about equally-terrible but less-covered tragedies in news articles. These events shock you back to reality, they give you pause, and offer a perspective that we are most unfortunate to gain.

There is much controversy surrounding these delicate and rather scary issues. Politics aside, we should look to our moral code and remember that the refugees are human beings like us. They are desperate for some sort of help, as they search to rebuild their lives. Just for today, let’s try to take a look at what some of the good people are doing. It is no surprise to see that dentists are out there doing what they can, to shed some light on these dark times.

A quick Google search for Syrian refugees and dentistry will provide you with countless links. Some include information on:

  • Project: Refugee Smiles, initiated by our late colleague Deah Barakat from UNC. He had a passion for outreach and focused his efforts on refugees. He used much of his personal time for these efforts. He ran toothbrush sales at local events, and was able to raise $16,000 toward his goal. After Deah was killed, there was an outpouring of donations which led his family to greatly expand his efforts.
  • Medical Teams International (MTI) is another group with many programs. MTI works to prevent and reduce the impact of disease on refugees living in the Lebanon camp. They offer support by providing basic medical and dental care. Overpopulated refugee camps are at high risk for outbreak. Health education and evaluation are of the utmost importance for their well-being. Estimated on MTI’s website, there is 1 dentist for every 800 refugees.
  • A dentist from the University at Buffalo has also been supporting refugees. Through fundraising efforts, he was able to establish the first full-service dental clinic at a refugee camp in Istanbul. He visited Zaatari for a dental mission trip this fall, and has plans for a trip to Turkey before year’s end to help with another camp.

These are a few well-established initiatives created by dentists and dental students. While they may not be able to solve the issue, they are doing what they can to improve at least the health of these people. There are many other examples of support, including something as simple as school clothing drives. As we embark on the holiday season, we can reflect on all that we should be thankful for. But we can also pause the next time we’re inclined to complain about an exam or the amount of studying we have before us. The amount of work and the level of skill we’re building has the potential to do a tremendous amount of good in the world. That’s something to be thankful for.

~Jordan Telin, Buffalo ’17, District 2 Trustee

Jordan Telin

Jordan is a third year at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine and currently serves as ASDA's District 2 trustee. He also sits on ASDA's Council on Professional Issues.

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