About 30 local refugees freshened up their grins this week during the Share A Smile organization’s Smiles for Refugees weeklong event.
The program was a partnership between Share A Smile and the International Rescue Committee, held Monday through Friday at the Henry Schein Center of Excellence in American Fork. Refugees living in Salt Lake and Utah counties were able to get free dental cleanings, fillings, extractions, root canals and more from volunteer dentists and assistants.
“This is my favorite event that we do. We’re working with people who have nothing, who have left behind everything they know, and some have left behind family members,” said Heather Hogue, executive director of Share A Smile. “They are all kind and grateful and remarkable people.”
The refugee event is only one of the many services Share A Smile provides. This Utah County nonprofit provides free dental care to many at-risk and vulnerable people in the community. The organization holds regular clinic hours every week offering free dental care to homeless, veterans and women in domestic violence shelters — doing so through many volunteer hours of local dental professionals.
Jeremy White, an Orem dentist, has consistently volunteered with Share A Smile for 13 years in the organization’s Provo and American Fork offices. This was his first Smiles for Refugees event, though.
“For some of them, this was the first time they’d ever been to a dentist,” he said. “A lot of them needed a really good cleaning.”
For many of the patients, White had to work through a translator. The refugees who participated came from Iraq, Ethiopia, North Korea, Somalia, Central African Republic, Syria, Republic of South Sudan, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Turkey, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and Pakistan. All patients were adults who have no access to dental insurance.
For those who have had some dental care in the past, Hogue said many of their work needed updating. Many patients seen this week had follow-up appointments already scheduled for additional work.
“Some have had great dental work, but it has fallen into disrepair because they were in refugee camps for so long,” Hogue said.
Ali Albayati, a refugee from Iraq, sat smiling in the waiting room Wednesday, waiting for his turn. He said he has too many teeth, so he was hoping the dentists could fix that. After working with the U.S. Army in his native country, Albayati fled Iraq in 2016 with his wife, children and mother.
“I was scared for my life, for my family’s life,” he said.
The family has had to adjust to many different things here — the weather, the culture, the food — and are very grateful for this service. Though Albayati works as an HVAC technician, they cannot afford dental insurance.
White was happy to be the one serving, and said he loves giving back to the local community.
“It’s very fulfilling, and makes you feel like you are doing good in the world,” White said.