Giving refugees a reason to smile

Longer, healthier, happier lives
09 August 2017

A team of Bupa dentists and dental nurses from Bupa UK has travelled to Greece to give free, emergency treatment to refugees.

For people who’ve made the treacherous journey to Europe to escape war and persecution, maintaining perfect dental hygiene may be low on the priority list. This can lead to all kinds of painful dental problems, as Dr Bhav Kotecha, dental surgeon and Bupa Clinical Lead, witnessed firsthand. 

As part of a Dentaid volunteering programme, he and 11 other Bupa UK dentists and dental nurses travelled to a refugee camp in Thessaloniki, Greece, in April to deliver free emergency treatment for refugees.

The trip, funded by Bupa UK, saw them treat patients young and old in makeshift pop-up clinics in schools, community centres, cafes and camps. 

“It’s not often that you get the opportunity to directly help people in crisis. You can send money, of course, but this was a unique chance to roll up our sleeves and make a tangible difference using our professional skills.”

Having personal experience of the challenges families endure when faced with forced migration, albeit not in the same tragic circumstances, Dr Kotecha has a heightened sensitivity to the refugees’ plight. Still, seeing the situation on the ground, rather than via the media, was a revelation. 

“Many of these people were living well before their communities were torn apart and they had good access to dental care. A few of the patients didn’t want their teeth extracted – even though they should have – because they felt they might soon be in a position to get a different dental solution. In some ways that gave us solace – the sense that they still had hope.”

Dr Kotecha and the team helped 148 people over six days, performing extractions and fillings and bringing relief to some very grateful patients. One lady left the pop-up clinic, only to return later with a gift of Syrian-style aubergine and rice. 

It was also a chance for Dr Kotecha and his colleagues to connect with patients on a more personal level. 

“I extracted a tooth from a young boy and then afterwards I was outside having a quick game of football with him and his friend. That’s not something we normally get to do – and not the normal protocol we advise, may I add!

“One young girl had a big chip in her front tooth, which naturally made her feel self conscious. After we fixed it for her, she said that we had not only fixed her tooth, but we had restored her smile.

“I feel like we gained as much from the experience as we gave. It was quite an adventure as well and I think we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

“It’s made us all feel proud to work for Bupa.”

Longer, healthier, happier lives
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