In the not so distant past, Edmonton dentist Dr. Yousif Chaaban had a family of three refugees in his office at Oxford Dental in need of help.

When he looked into the mouths of these people, he saw cavities and decay that were causing pain.

Chaaban filled out all of the insurance paperwork and submitted it, only to be told nothing was covered.

Dr. Yousif Chaaban

Dr. Yousif Chaaban and an assistant offer a refugee free dental care. (CBC)

So he made a choice.

"They're in my chair already, and in a lot of pain," said Chaaban. "How do you say no to them? So we did the work and decided to start helping not just four or five but a whole whack of them."

He's followed through on his promise. 

A lot of work ahead

On the first weekend of March, Chaaban opened up the doors of the practice to refugees, many of them from war-torn countries like Syria, for free dental work.

A lot of them were children.

Chaaban estimates that 90 per cent of them, aged from three to 12, have never been to a dentist's office before. 

"Every child I've seen today has been complaining of pain somewhere in their mouth," said Chaaban. "When you see that, how do you let that go? 

"Their teeth are just full of cavities, decay all over their teeth. It's unfortunate. They came to this country and a lot of them are in pain. We brought them in [today] because they don't have coverage."

Chaaban — a born and raised Edmontonian — estimates the work on just the people he helped this weekend, will take him more than three or four months of work on the weekends, when he isn't taking paying customers.

An agency that helps refugees says the current coverage offered by the government just doesn't cover enough. 

"It's only when a problem actually becomes urgent, and it requires emergency care, that they're able to be covered," said Sarah Hanafi of the Islamic Family and Social Services Association.

Sarah Hanafi

Islamic Family and Social Services Association spokesperson Sarah Hanafi says refugee insurance coverage only kicks in when problems becomes urgent. (CBC)

"So, unfortunately, we're missing out on a big part of prevention, but we're also missing out on optimizing health options because, by the [time] they are able to receive care, there is going to be detrimental long-term consequences."

Raising awareness

Chaaban says there are so many patients that need work that his "hands are tied" by the sheer volume.

He says the primary reason for doing this is to help the people in his chair, but he also wants to raise awareness about this problem. 

"We're gracious that the government has brought these people from war-torn countries, sponsored them as refugees, but now we have to take it a step further," he said.

"We got them to this country and now we have to make them dentally and medically healthy.

"They have no money, they came here with nothing, absolutely nothing. I'm hoping this will push the government to do something about this, and other dentists as well."

Dental work refugee

A recent refugee is all smiles over the free service. (CBC)

The patriarch of one Syrian family waiting patiently for all 12 members of his family to take a turn in the chair, expressed his gratitude to Chaaban.

"What he's done is something really big and great," the man said.

"It's something that's helping me and my whole family."