Caritas dentists brighten smiles of Syrian, Iraqi refugees

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Dr. Hala Arida, a dentist at Caritas Jordan’s Medical Centre in Amman – RV
(Vatican Radio) Growing up in Syria’s rural countryside, some of them have never seen a dentist or a doctor in their entire lives. And running for their lives from conflict, hundreds of thousands of them today find themselves in neighbouring countries as refugees without friends or the support mechanisms they once had at home. The shooting and the stress of losing loved ones, their homes and livelihoods have many refugees spiralling into despair and depression – even schizophrenia – and the psychological strain can have devastating effects on their health.

Listen to this program by Tracey McClure:

Jordan today has offered sanctuary to more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, hundreds of Iraqi refugees from the Gulf War and more recently, thousands fleeing Islamic extremism in Mosul.  But the Kingdom’s generosity has come with a weighty toll: higher poverty rates and crime, sky-rocketing real estate prices, fewer jobs for locals, water and energy shortages and diminished resources for public hospitals and clinics – many of which offer free health care for Jordanians and refugees alike.

But tens of thousands of refugees are currently in the country illegally, having failed to register with the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR.  That means they remain off the grid for humanitarian assistance and health care.

Caritas is one of the few non-profit organizations in Jordan which offers psychological and medical assistance to undocumented refugees and to those waiting for their documents to be processed by UNHCR. 

For one dentist in Caritas Amman’s Medical Center, helping the refugees to the best of her ability is her biggest priority, despite the many challenges. Tracey McClure visited the Caritas Humanitarian Center in Amman and spoke with Dr. Hala Arida about what she finds so special about her job.

“Every week, usually we see around 20-25 patients a day. So, multiplied by 5, around 100 patients a week,” Dr. Arida says. “Usually they come with very poor oral hygiene, so they have a lot of cavities; they have a lot of missing teeth, so we try to fix that.”

Many of the Syrian refugees who have come to Jordan are from rural areas where they were rarely afforded the opportunity to receive dental care prior to their arrival in Jordan. There was also very little knowledge about good oral hygiene.

As a result, “they usually come afraid,” Dr. Arida says. She explains that she tries to ease them into the process, in order “to make them comfortable at first [so that the clinic can] treat them. And to make some changes in their habits: to brush their teeth regularly, to fix that.

The children coming to the Caritas clinic tend to be particularly nervous about the experience, Dr. Arida explains, a frown creasing her brow. In order to alleviate their anxiety, I rename my tools, she says, to make them sound less intimidating: “like this is the suction thing, like we call it Mr. Thirsty.  The air syringe… we say, ‘It’s gonna tickle you,’” she grins. “We try to make them feel better.”

But how important is her Christian faith to her work?  Dr. Arida says it does not matter whether the refugees who come to her are Christians like herself or Muslims.  “We treat [the patients] with love, at least offer a smile, ease their pain,” she smiles. “We listen to them if they want to talk, that’s it — we try to make them feel better.”,_iraqi_refugees/1119187