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Dental care program for Syrian refugee children to expand

Buffalo dentist to train teachers, volunteers on providing basic oral health

June 07, 2018
Dr. Othman Shibly
Dr. Shibly

Buffalo, N.Y. — Dr. Othman Shibly, a clinical professor in the University of Buffalo dental school, recently completed his 15th mission in May to the borders of his native Syria to help deliver dental care to more than 2,000 refugee children.

But there’s the challenge: That amounts to only about one percent of the 200,000 children displaced by the ongoing Syrian civil war. To address this challenge Dr. Shibly is doing something a little different on his next mission.

Through the University at Buffalo Miles for Smiles program, a biannual mission to deliver dental care to Syrian refugee children, Dr. Shibly will train teachers and volunteers at refugee camps in Lebanon on how to perform basic oral health care, allowing him to reach more people and increase the sustainability of care.

“No matter how good we are in our missions, we can only treat so much,” Dr. Shibly said in a news release. “It would be impossible to have a significant impact on the oral health of refugees.”

The training, made possible through a new partnership with Harvard University, Kings College London, and nongovernmental organizations Dental Mavericks and Global Steps, will begin in the fall. A Miles for Smiles mission in October will follow the training.

Dr. Shibly got involved in dental relief for Syrians after Dr. Mohammed Al-Nahhas, a dentist in Panama City, Florida, started providing dental care in collaboration with Syrian American Medical Society. With portable dental chairs and equipment, volunteers provided emergency treatment in several areas in Turkey.

"I visited Turkey in July 2012," Dr. Shibly told ADA News in 2014. "Those refugees are people like us, but they happen to be in the wrong time and the wrong place and they deserve full dental services. Medical relief for Syrians is generally very good. But there is not enough dental care. At first, volunteers were concentrating on war injuries — thoracic and head and neck problems — as well as emergency dental care that was mostly extractions."

In his most recent mission, which ran from April 30 to May 6, Dr. Shibly delivered treatment to 900 Syrian refugee children and 300 local children in Lebanon. He led a group of volunteers from Harvard School of Dental Medicine, King’s College London Dental Institute, Saint Joseph University of Beirut and individual practitioners from the U.S., France and Kuwait. Volunteers fill cavities, perform extractions and deliver oral health education.

Since 2015, Henry Schein has supported Dr. Shibly and Miles for Smiles by donating more than $120,000 in dental materials and equipment, according to a news release.

In addition to the training program, Dr. Shibly is working on providing refugees with adequate housing. He’s experimenting with a new program to repair homes in Syria in exchange for the owner’s permission to allow refugee families to occupy the house for two years—giving families an alternative to refugee camps.

Dr. Shibly and friends are financing the project out-of-pocket. According to the University of Buffalo, each house will cost about $500 to repair.

To learn more about international volunteering, visit The ADA Foundation will also hold a course on international volunteerism at ADA 2018 in Honolulu on Oct. 21 called Volunteer Internationally: Build Sustainable Oral Health Programs (8302).