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‘Happy to do something for these kids’

Chicago dentist treats Syrian refugee children

October 17, 2016

By Michelle Manchir

First dental home: Kamal, 4, was a little uneasy during his dental exam with Dr. Flavia Lamberghini, who opened her dental office in Chicago to serve children of Syrian refugees. 
Four-year-old Kamal held tightly on to his father’s arms as Dr. Flavia Lamberghini gently tried to coax him to a dental chair, trying to avert his attention to brushing the “teeth” of a stuffed dog.

The boy and his family had been in the U.S. for only about five weeks after leaving his native Syria when, in October, he was able to get his teeth examined by a dentist thanks to a Chicago dental team’s generosity.

Dr. Flavia Lamberghini and others at Apple Dental Care offered a clinic for children of Syrian refugees.

“I want to give them continuity of care and I want them to feel welcome and that they have a dental home in Chicago if they end up staying in Chicago,” said Dr. Lamberghini, who said she regularly participates in clinics offering care at no cost in churches, schools and health centers around Chicago.

Uncertainty: Dr. Flavia Lamberghini, right, shows Kamal, 4, that taking care of your teeth is fun and important with the help of a stuffed friend during a clinic at her office in Chicago Oct. 8.

Dr. Lamberghini is also a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatric dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she earned her masters in public health, and discovered the how deep the access to care issue goes for many children, notably minorities, refugees or those who live in underserved neighborhoods, she said.
So when she opened her dental office more than 10 years ago, “I wanted to make it available for kids that don’t have a dental home.”

Her plan has come to life. She said her office is well known in Illinois as one of few that accepts Medicaid and is available for child patients who need care.

Providing care: Dr. Noor Obaisi, left, assists Samer Almasri, who brought his three sons to the clinic on Oct. 8, fill out paperwork. Mr. Almasri and his family had arrived in the U.S. from Syria about five weeks prior to the clinic.
“We’ve been very successful — three years ago we opened a second office (in Chicago) and we see kids from everywhere in the state of Illinois,” Dr. Lamberghini said, adding that her office gets referrals from as far away as Springfield, more than 200 miles southwest of Chicago.

Her accessibility makes the office an important one for people including Samer Almasri, who brought his three young sons to Dr. Lamberghini’s office in October for the refugee event.

Kamal, his youngest son,  was resistant to a cleaning, but Dr. Lamberghini said just making contact with him and getting  him acquainted with the office is a good first step. She hopes her office on Chicago’s Northwest side, which is kid-friendly with a big yellow slide and play area, can become a dental home for children in Kamal’s situation.

Fun at the office: Kamal, 4, enjoys the slide and play area at Apple Dental Care in Chicago.
For the October event, a staff member at the office dressed as a giant smiling tooth to greet children. To assist with care for patients who spoke Arabic, volunteers from the Chicago-based Syrian Community Network were on hand, helping translate for Mr. Almasri and others. The group worked with Dr. Lamberghini and other volunteer dentists, Drs. Amy Martin, Wendy Yang and Brian Burseth to invite Syrian families in the Chicago area to the event.

Many of the refugees who attended are part of a federal resettlement program, said Syrian Community Network coordinator Maya Atassi, and they receive Medicaid, including dental care for children.

An event like the one at Dr. Lamberghini’s office, where parents could bring more than one child at a time for an appointment, are especially helpful for refugee families, Ms. Atassi said.

“A lot of times dental practices may have one appointment open, but a lot of families have two to four children and it’s hard to find a dentist on short notice who can make an appointment for each child,” she said.

By the end of the day, volunteer dentists had provided treatment to 32 children. Dr. Lamberghini said she looks forward to holding more events for Syrian refugee families.
“I am happy to do something for these kids,” she said.

For Dr. Noor Obaisi, whose parents moved to the U.S. from Syria before she was born, helping patients at the event in Chicago at Dr. Lamberghini’s office with any orthodontic work they need is a valuable way to promote good in the community.

“This is a population that may not know where to go for dental care,” she said. “It’s important to show them that their community supports them.”