Severe tooth decay and excruciating gum infections are plaguing some of the Syrian families newly arrived to New Brunswick and volunteers who work with them are calling for help.

"It was probably the top medical issue that we had," said Holly McKay, who participates in a welcome team, assigned to a family in Saint John. "To have a dentist come on board and say 'Listen, I'm willing to help, would be huge, huge, for these people.'"


Holly McKay, a volunteer with a welcoming team in Saint John, says dental problems were the top health issue they had. (CBC)

Members on her team made multiple calls with no success, McKay said, trying to get an urgent appointment for a Syrian woman struggling with pain.

McKay then decided to walk into her own dentist's office and beg, in person.

'Please make some room.'
- Holly McKay, welcome team volunteer

"We had to get her in that day," said McKay. "I went down there and I pleaded with the girls at the desk to please, please, please, anything they can do to get her in."

In Fredericton some volunteers did manage to book appointments on short notice.

"Basically, they were emergency cases with abscessed teeth and stuff like that," said dental surgeon Dr. Jean-Guy Violette. "And it's understandable because they haven't had care in a long, long time."

An issue across country

Last week in Edmonton and Ottawa, dentists volunteered their time to do check-ups and cleanings on Syrian children, some of whom had never been to a dentist.

One seven year old boy had teeth that were rotted down to the gums.


Fredericton dental surgeon Dr. Jean-Guy Violette said he saw emergency cases, including people with abscessed teeth. (CBC)

Urgent dental care is covered under Ottawa's Interim Federal Health Program, which applies to government-sponsored refugees.

It pays for emergency dental examinations, dental x-rays, and extractions.

Service providers must first be registered with the IFHP.

McKay would like to see more New Brunswick dental offices prepare their staff to be ready and willing to move quickly, when the call comes.

There's also a need for more education about hygiene, she said. "Please make some room," McKay pleaded.