“Health starts in the mouth:” How German Dentists are Aiding Refugees

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As the refugee crisis continues across Europe, dentists throughout Germany are committed to volunteering and delivering a major contribution to dental care for refugees.

To encourage this commitment, Henry Schein recently launched their campaign “Health starts in the mouth.” Dental initiatives throughout Germany were supported with over 100,000 prophylaxis materials such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, worth more than $56,000 (50,000 EUR).

The Malteser, an organization in Stuttgart, Germany, takes care of refugees in various shelters throughout the city. With the donations, and together with dentist Dr. Gerd Hase, they are conducting prophylaxis training to encourage preventative and hygiene practices, and will provide the residents with toothbrushes and other products.

In the following interview, Dr. Hase explains the background of the project.

How did they idea of the prophylaxis training in Stuttgart come about?

Dr. Gerd Hase provides dental training and tooth care supplies for refugees in Germany.Dr. Hase: The idea came after Henry Schein contacted us and told us about their campaign.

Since I am a member of the dental health state working group and part of the “Task Force refugees” in Stuttgart, I have been confronted with the health situation of refugees for quite some time. Furthermore, I’ve been in contact with a couple of key organizations, including Malteser.

When I heard about the opportunity to receive dental care materials for refugees, I approached Malteser and the project was born.

What is the project all about?

Dr. Hase: We want to promote dental health among refugees. The lack of supplies is often a severe factor.

In addition to distributing toothbrushes and toothpaste to the refugees in the shelters, which is an important first step, we will visit them on-site and offer a little training. In general, the refugees are familiar with the fundamentals of dental care. However, the awareness for the importance of prevention is rather low.

Above all, many of the displaced people went through difficult times during which they had completely different worries than dental care. This is where we come in: Our goal is to raise awareness for oral health and anchor the importance of regular dental care in their minds.

The initiative is called “Health starts in the mouth.” Why is oral health especially important for displaced people?

Supplies donated to the organization Malteser in Stuttgart, Germany for refugees.Dr. Hase: The issue not only concerns displaced people. Oral health is a responsible basis for the overall health of our body. The mouth is like an entrance gate into the body.

Additionally, issues in the mouth, such as inflammations, can have a very negative impact and result into other diseases. When prophylaxis and dental hygiene is taken seriously, it’s an important step for overall health. Hence the title: Health starts in the mouth.

Just like Henry Schein, I think it is important that we promote dental care and oral health towards the refugees since their lives have already been badly affected by the long journey and the situation in their home countries. We are happy to provide assistance in order to stabilize their general health.

You’ve been treating displaced people in your dental office for quite some time. How are these different compared to other treatments?

Dr. Gerd Hase provides dental treatment.Dr. Hase: The patients come with various different symptoms ranging from simple gum inflammations to displaced wisdom teeth.

The patients are always very happy that we are able to treat them within the scope of primary care. But the biggest challenge is still the language barrier and a deep-rooted fear. Especially when they are already traumatized, terrified, and on top have to then deal with insufficient communication. But at least some patients are accompanied by an interpreter and I also have a dental assistant, who speaks a little Moroccan, so that helps a little in finding a way to the optimal treatment.

In our dental office we often treat patients from the refugee shelters. Due to the strong demand and the very extensive effort in treating them, we have to very carefully organize the allocation of appointment. However, the high demand only shows that our work is more than important.

What’s your personal motivation to advocate for refugees?

Dr. Hase: We humans only have one planet on which we have to coexist. Each individual can and should contribute to this much needed peaceful coexistence. Being a dentist, there’s no doubt for me that I can contribute by using my dental expertise. We can thus begin to create trust and build bridges through initiatives like this. For some, this may be just a drop in the ocean, for me, the motto is: Constant dripping wears away the stone.

It is important to pave the way towards health care for people in need. A briskly shaken hand or a thankful smile fills me with great pleasure and motivates me for further endeavors.