Dental Clinic Offers Critical Service to Refugees

August 29, 2012

The first six months of a refugee’s experience in the United States can be clogged with commitments and concerns; finding employment, accessing medical care, acclimating to a new culture, and many other matters command time and attention.

In Grand Rapids, finding an opportunity to go to the dentist, even for refugees with young children, can fall down the list of urgent priorities.

To help address this important need, Episcopal Migration Ministries’ (EMM) affiliate partners at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (LSSM) in Grand Rapids now serve refugee children new to Michigan with a mobile dental clinic set up in the agency’s office.

The bi-annual clinic has met with great demand each time. A June clinic brought 37 children into the LSSM office. LSSM medical coordinator Karyn Detmer said the clinic has helped meet a critical need in the refugee community.

“Depending on the family, they might not have had any dental care routine before they came here, so it’s a good place to start,” Detmer said. “It’s kind of the last thing they think of, so it’s nice to have this option for families. And it can be pretty hard to get into a dentist otherwise.”

Detmer learned of the mobile clinic through a contact in the local school district, and it offers families cleanings, X-rays and diagnostic dental services free of charge. Hygienists, a dentist and an X-ray technician set up shop in the LSSM conference rooms, which makes for an interesting scene.

Families who attend can leave with donations like toys and clothing offered by donors and supporters, which can mitigate the less-than-exciting experience of getting a cleaning for children.

“The kids don’t really like getting their teeth cleaned but they can walk away with a toy or a new winter coat, which makes it a little better,” Detmer said. “The clinic is a little bit chaotic, but we make it work.”

Detmer said organizing the clinic requires a team approach, as numerous volunteers and interns pitch in to provide transportation to families and coordinate donations.

"Our volunteers and interns donate their time to make this happen," she said. "We really couldn't do it without their help."